Indian River wrestler appeals N.Y. eligibility rule

Sandy Creek’s Marshall Coe looks to make a move on Watertown’s Cain Roberts in the 170-weight matchup during the 2020 Frontier League Wrestling Championships at Indian River High School. Watertown Daily Times

PHILADELPHIA — An appeal to the state education commissioner is in the works over an Indian River Central School District student who is now deemed ineligible to wrestle due to a rule regarding six consecutive years of eligibility.

The student is a senior at Indian River High School and was unable to wrestle last year with the cancellation of the wrestling season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re looking for him to be able to compete,” said Amanda Smith, senior associate with Tully Rinckey PLLC’s office in Buffalo, the law firm representing the student. “He’s looking to be able to compete in order to show the scouts for colleges what he can do.”

The student, who is a former state champion, is missing out on opportunities to showcase his talents to college scouts, Ms. Smith argues.

“This is a student who will be a state champion if he was able to compete, and so he is just looking for the right to be able to do that,” Ms. Smith said.

According to John Rathbun, executive director of Section III Athletics, the state Education Department has a rule stating a student has six consecutive years of eligibility, which includes modified and junior varsity as well as varsity sports. There are no plans to change that because of season cancellations last year, he said.

“New York State Education Department has not recognized altering any of the rules because of the current pandemic situation,” Mr. Rathbun said.

Ms. Smith is arguing that because there was no season last year, this year should be considered the student’s sixth consecutive year of eligibility.

According to Ms. Smith, Section III claims that the student, whom she did not identify, is “not eligible for an exemption because it was not a social or emotional condition, illness, or accident beyond his control.”

“I mean it’s hard to argue that COVID-19 is not a social or emotional condition beyond his control,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Smith also said that Section III is relying on past cases that she thinks are not relatable to this case, saying that this case is an “emergency circumstance” and that it “has never been seen or dealt with before.”

Indian River Superintendent Troy Decker would not comment specifically on the student’s case. He did say that eligibility issues are not dealt with by the individual schools and that eligibility issues are “100% at the control and discretion of the section, in our case Section III, and Section III is going to operate from New York State Athletic Associations guidelines that are based on commissioner regulations.”

“We love to see kids participate in athletics and arts and clubs and activities in any way, shape, or form,” Mr. Decker said. “We are going to certainly support a student’s participation as much as we’re able to based upon any regulations.”

The wrestling season began on Nov. 15, and will run until March 27.

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