The Universal Notebook: Indiana Faithfull in black-and-white and gray

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Kids can be cruel. As Indiana Faithfull stepped to the line to shoot foul shots in last week’s high school basketball tournament, the Windham High School student section broke into chants of “Chea-ter! Chea-ter!” and “USA! USA!”

The long, lanky point guard, an Australian, had been ruled ineligible to play at the start of the spring semester. Now here he was leading the Cheverus Stags to victory over the Windham Eagles, a team that wasn’t destined to go very far in the tournament anyway. Hence the hecklers.

According to a Maine Principals’ Association rule, student athletes have eight consecutive semesters of interscholastic eligibility. In Australia the school year begins in January, which meant that Faithfull had ostensibly used up three semesters of eligibility before he transferred to Cheverus as a sophomore in the fall of 2007. When Cheverus coach Bob Brown brought the situation to the MPA’s attention, the MPA quickly benched Faithfull in January for the rest of the basketball season. No playoffs for him.

Fans can be cruel. The MPA ruling touched off weeks of blather on MBR.ORG, where posters with user names such as Speed, Goosie, Hitops and Rampower15 debated the justice and/or injustice of forcing Cheverus’ best player to ride the bench. Cheverus being the Yankees of Class A schoolboy sports, there was also a lot of Cheverus-bashing, accusing the Jesuit prep school of recruiting studs like Faithfull in order to remain competitive with larger public schools.

Those who see the world in terms of black and white just kept up the online chant, “A rule’s a rule! A rule’s a rule!,” while those who see it in shades of gray argued that it wasn’t fair – to Faithfull, to Cheverus, to their opponents and to sports fans everywhere – not to allow Faithfull to play out the season.

I jumped into the MBR fray a few times under my user name just to say what I am about to say here under my own name: A rule that prevents a full-time student in good academic standing from completing a sports season he or she has started is a bad rule. It’s like another bad MPA rule that precludes players from playing after they turn 20.

The intent is good; the application is faulty. Any student athlete who is eligible to start a sports season should be allowed to complete it. That’s the way it works in Little League and that’s the way it should work in Maine high school sports.

Fortunately, justice did prevail in the case of Indiana Faithfull v. Maine Principals’ Association. On February 12, Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler issued a temporary restraining order preventing the MPA from keeping Faithfull off the court. Wheeler found “that (Faithfull) has a strong likelihood of success on his argument that the ‘eight consecutive semesters’ eligibility rule as interpreted by the MPA has a disparate and discriminatory impact on him on the basis of his national origin.”

The restraining order naturally touched off a whole new round of online and sideline hooting and hollering, but if the MPA elects to appeal the court order rather than modify its eligibility rule, I can only conclude that it cares more about its own authority than it does about what’s best for student athletes.

The MPA fouled Indiana Faithfull. A lot of online posters fouled him. The opposing fans fouled him.

But Indiana Faithfull made his foul shots.

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The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.