Kithier lawyers seek Jan. 15 return, no monetary award

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Lawyers for ineligible high-school basketball star Thomas Kithier say they are seeking to have him reinstated to the Clarkston varsity basketball by Jan. 15 when they file their lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association in U.S. District Court in Detroit either this week or next.

Part of the suit will be the request for a temporary restraining order, which, if approved, could get Kithier back on the court for the second half of his senior season, before he heads off to play next season at Michigan State.

“We just want this kid to be treated like everybody else,” said Steven Fishman, one of the attorneys representing the Kithiers — Thomas and his parents, Jane and Karl — along with Ven Johnson.

The MHSAA has ruled Kithier ineligible for the entire season, after his previous school, Macomb Dakota — of Chippewa Valley Schools — protested that his transfer to Clarkston was athletically motivated. The MHSAA upheld its decision on appeal.

MHSAA executive director John “Jack” Roberts issued the original ruling, and during the appeal process, a five-person MHSAA executive committee agreed with Roberts’ decision.

During the appeal, the Kithiers’ lawyers allege, the Kithiers were not formally interviewed about the situation. John Johnson, a spokesman for the MHSAA, told The News there was a phone call between Kithier’s mother and the MHSAA office — even though the MHSAA doesn’t require that as sides go through the transfer process, rulings and appeals. Typically, Johnson said, the schools speak for the family, because the MHSAA works for the schools.

“The appeal is made by the school,” Johnson said, and in this case, that was Clarkston. “If there’s an appearance to take place, it has to be school personnel. We would count on the school to be giving us information.”

Kithier played three years at Dakota, but has spent the last few years considering his transfer options. He visited high-profile prep schools in Indiana and Florida, and considered other local high schools, Ven Johnson said.

Eventually, he chose Clarkston, and at 18 years old, Kithier, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound power forward, moved by himself into a Clarkston condo in August and enrolled in the new district. His family has since followed him — that Clarkston address is on their driver’s licenses, the Kithiers’ lawyers said — and they have their Macomb home up for sale.

Transfers typically are forced to miss the first semester of athletics, but when Chippewa Valley Schools refused to sign off the transfer waiver, alleging the move was about athletics, the MHSAA ruled in Chippewa Valley Schools’ favor and that set in motion a 180-day period of ineligibility, costing Kithier the season.

The second semester starts Jan. 15, and that’s when Kithiers’ lawyers want him reinstated. They won’t seek monetary damages in court, his lawyers said.

The MHSAA ruled there was no undue influence, or recruiting, by Clarkston or coach Dan Fife of Kithier, whose previous statements about wanting to play alongside AAU teammate — and future Michigan State teammate — Foster Loyer at Clarkston was cited as the MHSAA’s reason for siding with Dakota.

Kithiers’ lawyers are expected to argue in court that in a school-of-choice state as Michigan is, why should switching schools to pursue better athletic opportunities be treated any differently than if Kithier were moving for other extracurricular opportunities — like, say, if he and Loyer were in the marching band, and wanted to play in the same school band.

Chippewa Valley Schools has declined all media requests for interviews, issuing just a statement supporting its decision. At a recent school board meeting, Chippewa Valley Schools superintendent Ron Roberts said there is no plan to change course and sign the waiver. And even if it did, the MHSAA said it wouldn’t change its stance that Kithier should remain ineligible.

The MHSAA has had its athletically motivated transfer rules in place since 1997.