Sixth graders not allowed to play on Middle School team until suit settled

Eric Fodor

Saline County Circuit Judge Todd Lambert indicated he did not necessarily make the decision he wanted to make. He denied a motion to allow three sixth-grade girls to play softball while a lawsuit brought by their parents is decided in court.

Parents of the three students from Harrisburg Middle School sued the school board, saying their daughters' civil rights were violated when they were added to the team after tryouts, then cut by administrators shortly after tryouts. Administrators cited board policy that does not allow sixth-graders to play on teams with seventh- and eighth-graders.

The girls will not play Harrisburg Middle School softball this year. Lambert's decision, came two days after a hearing in which an attorney representing the parents asked for a restraining order allowing the kids to play.

Lambert, citing higher state courts, said school children don't have a constitutional right to participate in sports.

"Were this a case in which the court simply had to decide whether to let these very talented girls play on a middle school softball team, the court would likely reach a different decision," Lambert wrote in his three-page decision. "But the court is constrained with the procedural and substantive laws of this state."

The lawsuit was filed by Mindy and Jason Jones, on behalf of Hanna Jones; Ron Hutchinson, on behalf of Kaitlyn Hutchinson; and James and Ladonna Davis, on behalf of Hannah Davis. They are represented by Josh Bradley, an attorney based in Marion who is a native of Harrisburg.

Bradley is exploring options on behalf of his clients, he said.

"My clients are disappointed with the decision that was reached," Bradley said. "I am especially disappointed with the decision for the children who just wanted the opportunity to play."

Superintendent Dennis Smith stood by board policy, but plans to work on changing policy to allow sixth-graders to play next year. Board members, in a 5-2 decision at an Aug. 8 special meeting, upheld the policy preventing sixth-graders from playing. They pledged to study the policy and possibly make changes next year.