Attorneys Steven Fishman and Ven Johnson comment on ruling that upholds MHSAA decision that Thomas Kithier is ineligible to play at Clarkston. Robin Buckson, Detroit News
Detroit — A U.S. District Court judge declined a request for a preliminary injunction for high school basketball star Thomas Kithier on Thursday, leaving the senior ineligible to play for Clarkston.
Judge Marianne O. Battani ruled in favor of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which prohibited Kithier from playing for Clarkston following his transfer from Macomb Dakota for what it says was athletically-motivated reasons.
Kithier’s lawyers, Ven Johnson and Steve Fishman, requested a preliminary injunction to get Kithier back on the court for the start of second semester or Jan. 15, even while his lawsuit plays out against his former school, Macomb Dakota of Chippewa Valley Schools, and the MHSAA.
Kithier, a 6-foot-8 power forward and Michigan State recruit, played his first three years at Dakota, helping it reach the Class A state semifinals his sophomore year with a win over Clarkston in the regionals before Dakota got eliminated by Clarkston in last year’s regional semifinal.
Kithier was set to play with his AAU teammate, Detroit News Dream Team point guard Foster Loyer, who also will play for the Spartans next year, but Dakota administrators would not sign off on the transfer.
The situation appears similar to Jack Ballantyne's transfer to Dakota for the 2016-17 school year. Ballantyne transferred from Warren De La Salle, playing his senior season with AAU teammate Jermaine Jackson. Ballantyne and Jackson are now teammates at Detroit Mercy.
De La Salle signed off on Ballantyne’s transfer.
Scott Eldridge, outside legal counsel for the MHSAA, comments on the ruling in the Thomas Kithier case. Robin Buckson, Detroit News
Kithier’s lawyers didn't mention the similar situation that took place with Ballantyne and Dakota.
“That was never in the discussion because that’s not really the subject on which the judge made her ruling,” Fishman said. “I think that the judge felt bad for the situation, and I think if it was up to her she’d change things, but it’s not up to her.
“Really, the villain of this piece is the MHSAA that didn’t give a hoot about Thomas Kithier and made a ruling to prove that they could do it basically, so no I don’t believe that there’s any other facts that we could have said that would have changed anything. If you listen to the judge’s ruling it was based solely on case law and a lot of that case law is in this circuit, and a lot of that case law is really old.”
Kithier did not comment after Thursday's ruling, but Johnson said he and his family were "disappointed."
"We’re working very hard on this to do everything we know how to do for the big fella to play," Johnson said. "Right now, all that’s happened is the judge has said I’m not going to block the MHSAA. Now, the rest of the lawsuit continues. Yes, his season is unfortunately done unless he goes back to Dakota and that’s a decision for he and his family to make, and it’s pretty obvious to some of us. No decision is being made right now. We’re even thinking about potentially filing an appeal, probably will not just because of the time involved.”
MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts and Associate Director Tom Rashid were not present Thursday. Scott Eldridge, an attorney for the MHSAA, said allegations that the organization used "selective enforcement" in ruling Kithier ineligible "is just not supported by facts."
“We’ve had three high school athletes who violated the athletically-motivated transfer rule," Eldridge said, "and they imposed the same 180-school day ineligibly ruling that included Mr. Kithier.
“Every state athletic association has rules and those rules are enforced, and a lot of times they end up in court. This has happened for decades, and is nothing terribly new to the MHSAA or any other state athletic association."
When asked if Kithier and Loyer playing together in AAU was a reason for the athletically-motivated ruling, Eldridge said, “That was the facts that ended up triggering that particular rule.”