Midvale • An eligibility hearing Thursday for a star basketball player who transferred to South Sevier over the summer was hardly a victory for the Monroe school even though the player was deemed immediately eligible.
Rams basketball coach Scott Hunt was fined $500 and suspended for five games for allowing Austin Clark, a first-team All-State selection for North Sevier last year, to play in summer league games with the defending 2A champions. The 6-foot-5 junior suited up with the team before he enrolled in school, which the committee found to be a violation of the Utah High School Activities Association's undue influence and recruiting rule.
"I have a clear conscience," Hunt said. "I don't feel like I did anything wrong or incorrect, I don't think I did anything wrong with the player transferring in."
Clark, 17, averaged 13 points per game at North Sevier last year, but moved with his mother, a fifth-grade teacher in Salina, to South Sevier's boundaries over the summer. UHSAA Executive Director Rob Cuff said Clark met the requirements for a transfer which requires either a full-family move or a hardship and that the hearing was aimed more at exploring what led him to South Sevier.
It was a bittersweet day for Clark, who will get to play, but without his coach for five games.
"Coach didn't influence me to come over there at all," Clark said. "We already had a house over there before I talked to coach Hunt."
The issue, however, wasn't whether Clark had established residency, rather whether he established himself as a South Sevier student.
Hunt, who has coached for 27 years, denied early in the proceedings that he had knowingly done anything to recruit Clark to South Sevier.
"In no way shape or form have I ever cheated, tried to cheat, wanted to cheat, tried to recruit, wanted to recruit," Hunt said. "We play with what we've got and we do the best with what we've got."
At issue was a summer conversation between Hunt and UHSAA associate director Kevin Dustin, who oversees basketball, during which Dustin said he informed the coach that while any player can play for any team during summer games, but that if the player later enrolls at the school it would raise questions of undue influence.
"I don't feel like I was influenced at all," Clark said. "We had a house in Monroe, we had residency in Monroe."
Hunt said he thought he was clearing himself by pre-emptively checking with the association and that the information was not clear.
"In my opinion, I was misled," Hunt said.
Meanwhile, the Rams newest guard said he knew he would be enrolling at South Sevier and that summer basketball was critical if we wanted to have a role with the varsity.
"If you don't do the summer league you aren't gong to compete when it comes time to play," he said.
Clark will play for his third school in three years. As a freshman he played at Grand, where his father is the head coach, last year played at North Sevier and this season will be with the Rams.
Clark will join a talented Rams squad led by Race Parsons, a versatile guard and The Tribune's 2A MVP. Parsons and Clark are teammates on the AAU team Salt Lake Metro and Clark often stayed with Parsons in Salina so they could carpool to practices in Salt Lake City.
Clark's transfer highlighted a busy day of hearings at the UHSAA, where committee decisions also sidelined two East High football players and a Judge Memorial football player.
East players Tualagi Laupata and Pita Lafo Nuusa, the Leopards' starting center, were ruled eligible in the summer when they transferred from West High to East, but that decision was overturned Friday in what could prove to have significant cultural undertones.
They live with Junior Solivi, an East assistant coach who was fired from West in the spring. When they initially applied for transfer, Solivi listed Laupata and Nuusa as his "sons." They are not his biological sons, rather lived with Solivi as part of a shared-custody agreement. UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner said the committee recommended the players re-apply for a hardship transfer and that the association reconsider making them eligible.
The day's first hearing also had an East connection. Sophomore Chase Radcliffe played for the Leopards as a freshman and entered camp as the starting center. He played special teams in East's Aug. 19 win at Pine View. The next week, however, he enrolled at Judge Memorial, saying he did "not feel safe" at East. That was not considered a hardship, however, by the committee, which deemed him ineligible in all activities until his junior year.
UHSAA transfer decisions
• Former North Sevier guard Austin Clark is granted eligibility to play at South Sevier, but Rams coach fined and suspending for undue influence.
• East football players Pita Nuusa and Tualagi Laupata have their eligibility overturned due to following coach who is not sole guardian.
• Judge Memorial football player Chase Radcliffe is denied eligibility after transferring from East a week into the season.