Two 17-year-olds who moved from Northern California to go to school at Jordan High and were denied athletic eligibility will have their day in court against the Utah High School Activities Association.
They just won’t get a decision before football season ends.
On Tuesday afternoon, a District Court judge denied temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions on behalf of Dynamite-Jones Fa’agata and Clifford Betson. The two seniors are moving forward with their lawsuit against the UHSAA for eligibility, but their consolidated trial won’t be until Nov. 30, two weeks after the Class 5A football final.
The decision means even if they win the lawsuit, the players won’t participate in games for the No. 1-ranked Beetdigger football team for the remainder of their high school careers.
Laura Lui, the attorney for the boys’ legal guardian, Tangikina Tua, said they still would fight for eligibility for the rest of the school year.
“I think they’re disappointed, but we’re going to go forward,” Lui said. “Even if these students can’t get the opportunity to play, it could still help other similarly situated students. It could still be good for the public.”
Judge Keith Kelly denied the orders because he determined there was no irreparable harm — a mandated condition of issuing an order — to Betson and Fa’agata if the court did not take action. Kelly cited that relevant case law showing playing high school sports is a privilege, not a legally protected right.
Both boys looked downtrodden as Kelly said they would not be able to play. But Kelly did put the trial on a fast track, judicially speaking, to help get a decision before the winter and spring seasons.
“I’m sure the ruling is frustrating to you,” Kelly said to Betson and Fa’agata toward the end of the four-hour proceedings. “But I’m ordering this to be put to trial quickly so you can know whether you can play the rest of the year.”
The two sides now have a chance to collect evidence to present at the full trial, which will determine if the UHSAA’s denial of eligibility following its hardship waiver appeal hearing was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Betson and Clifford, distantly related cousins, both came from the Bay Area in California this spring to live with the Tuas, who live in Jordan boundaries. The UHSAA denied their hardship waiver, saying the boys did not meet the organization’s standard for a hardship and that several of the signatures on their forms were forged.
In the suit, the plaintiffs have argued that the UHSAA violated due process and equal protection under the law in rendering its decision. The UHSAA has won several lawsuits in recent years by arguing it is a private entity with discretion in how to regulate its activities.
• District Court judge Keith Kelly denies request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the UHSAA.
• Trial for Dynamite-Jones Fa’agata and Clifford Betson’s civil suit scheduled for Nov. 30.
• Decision means the seniors won’t play football at Jordan High.