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Decision No. 13,248

Appeal of the BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE PHELPS-CLIFTON SPRINGS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, on behalf of Gregory Baker, from action of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Inc. regarding participation in interscholastic athletics.

Decision No. 13,248

(August 29, 1994)

Sayles, Evans, Brayton, Palmer & Tifft, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner, Stephen M. Proudfoot, Esq., of counsel

McGivern, Shaw & O'Connor, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Ronald R. Shaw, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the decision of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Inc. ("respondent") that Gregory Baker is ineligible to participate in the interscholastic football program at petitioner's Midlakes High School during the 1994-95 school year. The appeal must be sustained.

There is no dispute as to the relevant facts. Gregory Baker is scheduled to enter twelfth grade at Midlakes High School in September 1994. During the 1990-91 school year, Gregory participated in interscholastic football as a freshman. He also played football during the 1991-92 school year. In May 1992, Gregory was seriously injured when he was shot by a high powered pellet gun. Surgery was required to remove the pellet. As a result of that injury and the subsequent surgery, Gregory's physicians directed that he not participate in football during the 1992-93 school year. However, the doctors did permit Gregory to play interscholastic soccer as a goalie during that year. During the 1993-94 school year, Gregory again played football. For the 1994-95 school year, respondent determined that Gregory was not eligible to play football. This appeal ensued. On August 15, 1994, I issued an interim order directing respondent to permit Gregory to participate in interscholastic football during the 1994-95 school year.

This appeal involves an interpretation of 8 NYCRR 135.4(c)(7)(ii)(b). That section provides in pertinent part:

A pupil shall be eligible for senior high school athletic competition in a sport during each of four consecutive seasons of such sport commencing with a pupil's entering into the 9th grade and prior to graduation, except as otherwise provided in this subclause . . . (i) If sufficient evidence is presented by the chief school officer to the section to show that the pupil's failure to enter competition during one or more seasons of a sport was caused by illness, accident, or similar circumstances beyond the control of the student, such pupil's eligibility shall be extended accordingly in that sport. (emphasis supplied)

Respondent doesn't contest petitioner's assertion that Gregory didn't play football in the Fall of 1992 as a result of an illness, accident, or similar circumstances beyond his control. However, respondent contends that Gregory isn't entitled to extend his eligibility to play football. It argues that the regulation permits only four consecutive sport seasons, regardless of the sport played in that season. It further contends that because Gregory played football in the Fall of 1990 and 1991, soccer in the Fall of 1992 and football in the Fall of 1993, he has played four consecutive seasons and isn't eligible to play football in the Fall of 1994.

Respondent's contention ignores the explicit language of 8 NYCRR 135.4(c)(7)(ii)(b). That regulation clearly states that a student's eligibility shall be extended in a particular sport if the student's failure to compete in that sport during one or more seasons resulted from an illness, accident or similar circumstances beyond the student's control. Respondent's interpretation that the regulation isn't "sport specific" is contrary to a plain reading of that regulation and, accordingly, I must reject it.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent permit Gregory Baker to participate in interscholastic football during the 1994-95 school year.

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