High School Sues For Lower Sports Division

By JAMES BROOKS
Alaska Beacon
    This March, the Monroe Catholic Rams were among the four best large high school boys basketball teams in Alaska.
    For some supporters, that isn’t enough. Late last month, the school sued the Alaska School Activities Association, claiming that the Rams have been improperly placed in the large-schools division for high school basketball.
    The case was first reported by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
    The school is seeking a legal injunction that would require ASAA — which regulates school sports here — to move Monroe Catholic from 4A to 3A. That would take the Rams from the largest-school division to the second largest.
    The new case, filed May 30, is the third time since 2021 that the Catholic school has brought legal proceedings against ASAA, seeking an easier path to a state championship win.
    Both prior cases, filed as administrative appeals in state courts at Fairbanks, were rejected by judges.
    Attorney Fleur Roberts has represented the school in all three cases.
    In the lawsuit, she wrote in part, “with the change in the rules and regulations, not only is Monroe no longer eligible to step down to 3A, Monroe will never be able to play 3A again or have the possibility of winning the Alaska State Tournament title.”
    She said that while Monroe Catholic can compete within its region, it runs into problems when it advances to the state tournament, which pits the 100-person high school against Anchorage schools with enrollments more than 10 times as large.
    “Imagine it’s like David and Goliath,” Roberts said. “David was able to beat Goliath because he had a slingshot. If he didn’t have a slingshot, he wouldn’t have been able to win.”
    ASAA officials declined comment, citing policy that prohibits them from speaking about ongoing legal matters.
    In filing the case, Monroe Catholic is challenging a classification system ASAA installed to cope with changing attitudes toward education in Alaska.
    The number of homeschooled students, as measured by the number of people enrolled in the state’s correspondence programs, has risen dramatically in the state, from about 9,500 in the 2000-2001 school year to more than 21,000 in the 2021-2022 school year and just over 22,000 in the current school year.
    Homeschooled students, unlike those attending traditional brick-and-mortar schools, aren’t locked in to playing sports at a single school.
    In 2020, responding to changing trends, ASAA issued guidelines that raised the classification of boys basketball teams at schools within 25 miles of Fairbanks, Anchorage, Wasilla and Soldotna, places with large populations and large numbers of homeschooled students.
    Billy Strickland, the ASAA executive director, told KTVA-TV at the time, “I think schools have changed a lot and I think the feeling is, with the advent of alternative education and more school choice, the fluidity of how athletes are attending schools have really changed.”
    The new guidelines also scored schools on how well they performed on the basketball court. A team that does well enough against bigger or same-sized schools earns points toward a higher classification.
    Their last year in 3A, the Rams won the state championship, and they’ve made frequent appearances in the 4A state tournament since then.
    But the school wasn’t happy with the promotion to 4A, and after two unsuccessful court filings that sought to appeal ASAA’s decision, the Rams awaited the end of a three-year re-evaluation cycle that could have dropped then back to 3A.
    Instead, Roberts said, ASAA changed the rules retroactively during a May 2023 meeting and denied Monroe’s ability to drop down a classification.
    “We’re just saying, hey, there’s a (rule) that existed for three years. You had set up this classification and how to classify players, and you set it up for three years … and now you’ve changed the goal posts,” she said.
    She said she thinks ASAA’s competitiveness concerns are unwarranted. Monroe charges tuition and is a religious school, which might deter homeschooled students from trying to play sports there.
    “Not anybody can just get in,” she said.
    ASAA is a voluntary organization, but if Monroe were to drop out, there’s no alternative, Roberts said. That forced the new filing, she said.
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