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Decision No. 18,107

Appeal of A.Z., on behalf of her child, from the action of Section IV of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and the Board of Education of the Horseheads Central School District regarding interscholastic athletics

Decision No. 18,107

(April 6, 2022)

Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, LLP, attorneys for petitioner, Jacob McNamara, Esq., of counsel

Levene, Gouldin & Thompson, LLP, attorneys for respondent Section IV of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Jared Mack, Esq., of counsel

Hogan, Sarzynski, Lynch, DeWind, & Gregory, LLP, attorneys for respondent Board of Education of the Horseheads Central School District, James Gregory, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of Section IV of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (“Section IV”) that her child (“the student”) was ineligible to participate in interscholastic basketball during the 2021-2022 school year.  The appeal must be sustained.

Section IV is a subdivision of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, a voluntary association of public and nonpublic schools organized to provide a central association through which students may compete in interscholastic athletics.  During the 2021-2022 school year, the student attended his fifth year of high school in the Horseheads Central School District (“Horseheads”).  The student had previously played interscholastic high school basketball for only one season, during the 2019-2020 school year.  During the 2020-2021 school year, his fourth year of high school, the student was unable to complete the credits needed to graduate due to depression and anxiety.  Additionally, the student did not meet academic eligibility requirements to play basketball during that school year. 

On July 21, 2021, the high school principal applied on behalf of the student to Section IV’s committee for extended eligibility seeking a waiver to participate in interscholastic basketball during the 2021-2022 season.  Section IV denied the request, and this appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was granted on November 22, 2021. 

Petitioner asserts that Section IV’s denial of extended eligibility to the student was arbitrary and capricious.  She argues that the student presented sufficient evidence of a documented social/emotional condition that prevented the student from playing basketball during the 2020-2021 season, pursuant to the Commissioner’s regulations.  Petitioner seeks a determination that the student is entitled to play basketball during the 2021-2022 school year.

Section IV contends that its determination was neither arbitrary nor capricious because the student’s application did not meet the criteria for extended eligibility.[1] 

Ordinarily, a student may only participate in a high school sport for “four consecutive seasons of such sport commencing with the pupil's entry into the ninth grade” (8 NYCRR 135.4 [c] [7] [ii] [b] [1]).  However, a student may obtain an extension of her or his athletic eligibility

[i]f 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, documented social/emotional condition, or documented social/emotional circumstances beyond the control of the pupil .... (8 NYCRR 135.4 [c] [7] [ii] [b] [1]).

The regulation indicates that “sufficient” evidence demonstrates that:  (1) the student failed to enter competition due to one of the above conditions; (2) the student was required to attend one or more semesters to graduate “as a direct result” of such conditions; and (3) extended eligibility “would not have a significant adverse effect” on competition (8 NYCRR 135.4 [c] [7] [ii] [b] [1] [i] [a]-[c]).

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884). 

Upon review of the record, I find that petitioner has submitted sufficient evidence to show that the student’s failure to enter competition during one or more seasons of basketball was caused by a documented social/emotional condition.  The application for extended eligibility included a letter from a licensed clinical social worker who met with the student four times during the 2020-2021 school year.  She described how the student’s symptoms of depression and anxiety prevented him from attending class, completing assignments, and playing basketball.  A letter from the student’s principal also explained how the student’s condition prevented him from attaining academic eligibility to play basketball in the 2020-2021 season and required him to attend a fifth year of high school.  The application was supported by a chart and academic records, which demonstrated how the student’s grades and attendance suffered a sudden and significant drop during this time.  Petitioner also submitted a letter from the Horseheads basketball coach demonstrating that the student’s participation would not have an adverse effect on the opportunity of other students to participate.

In response, Section IV merely argues that a “lack of medical evidence” justified its denial of extended eligibility.  However, it does not contest the assertions made by the licensed clinical social worker, which I have found to be sufficient.  Thus, on this record, I find that petitioner submitted sufficient evidence within the meaning of 8 NYCRR 135.4 (c) (7) (ii) (b) (1) (i).


IT IS ORDERED that the student be granted an extended eligibility waiver to participate in interscholastic basketball at Horseheads High School for the 2021-2022 season.



[1] Although joined as a respondent, Horseheads did not oppose petitioner’s request for interim relief and has not submitted an answer.