Female High School Student Sues After Being Denied Tryout for Boys’ Tennis Team

May 26, 2017

By Tyler White
A female student attending Lakeview South High School (LSHS) in Lakeville, Minnesota has sued that state’s high school athletics association, the high school and several individual defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, claiming her Constitutional rights were violated when she was denied the opportunity to try out for the boys’ Varsity Tennis team.
Prior to the boys’ tryouts in the spring of 2017, the female student alleged she attempted to join the girls’ tennis program in the fall of 2016. However, it is asserted she attended the girls’ tryouts for less than five hours because “undue influence and abusive behavior caused her, in part, to abruptly withdraw from the tryout and remove herself from a negative, abusive, and unhealthy educational environment.” Given her unfavorable experience with the girls’ tennis team, it is further asserted this female student decided to prepare for the spring to, “maximize the full potential of her high school educational experience by trying-out for and winning a spot on the 2017 LSHS Boys Tennis team.”
The complaint alleged that in conjunction with Craig Perry, an Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), Neil Strader, the Activities Director of LSHS, rejected this student’s request to tryout for the boys’ tennis team. The MSHSL is a member of the National Federation of State High School Associations and provides management, administration and oversight of interscholastic athletic programs). The formal adverse decision was premised upon MSHSL Bylaw 109 which states “students may not participate in more than one interscholastic season in a given sport in each school year or more than six seasons in any sport while enrolled in grades 7 to 12.” In addition, “Participation, no matter how limited, will count as one season of participation.”
According to a supporting affidavit of the female student’s mother, efforts were undertaken to ensure all of the proper guidelines and regulations were met to enable her to successfully tryout for the boys’ tennis team. In this affidavit, the plaintiff asserts she carefully studied and considered “eligibility requirements and the League- published Official Handbook, which contained a current version of the League’s Bylaws, Constitution, Interpretations, and Policy Statements… and the MSHLS published Eligibility Brochure, Eligibility Statement and Annual Sports Health Questionnaire.” The plaintiff maintained she met all official requirements, including payment of the required $300 participation fee through the LSHS online registration system, in order to maintain her daughter’s eligibility prior to the boys’ tryouts.
Argument Centers on Whether Girls Tennis Team Tryout Was ‘Full Participation’
The complaint alleged that despite compliance with all relevant requirements to join the boys’ team, Neil Strader and Craig Perry banned the female student from trying out for the boys’ tennis team. The rationale for this decision was that the brief tryout with the girls’ team in the fall of 2016 constituted “full participation” pursuant to MSHSL Bylaw 109. The plaintiff, however, argued her daughter “could not have participated on the girls’ team because she wasn’t qualified, certified, registered, or eligible to do so. At the time of the girls’ tennis tryouts, the plaintiff wasn’t registered to play, she hadn’t paid the mandatory $300 fee, had no updated physical examination, and didn’t review or complete the necessary materials required for eligibility.” In her affidavit, the plaintiff describes the alleged toxic atmosphere to which her daughter was subjected prior to, and during, the girls’ tennis tryouts. According to this affidavit, “in addition to hosting improper and prohibited captain’s practices before the start of the academic year, the head coach also knowingly urged the plaintiff to tryout despite the fact that she hadn’t signed up, registered, or completed necessary steps to be a member of the girls’ team. “The affidavit further asserts “the head coach also engaged in terribly inappropriate, disrespectful, degrading, and abusive language toward my daughter, to the point where she broke down and, ultimately withdrew herself from the negative, belittling environment.” The plaintiff contended that given the length of her daughter’s brief tryout for the girls’ team, her ineligibility to join the team, and the unprofessional behavior of the head coach, her daughter did not, and wasn’t able to, participate fully with the girls’ team. Consequently, the plaintiff maintained that in accordance with MSHSL Bylaw 109, her daughter “(a) has never participated in more than one interscholastic season in a given sport in a school year and; (b) has not participated in more than six seasons in any sport from 7th to 12th grade.”
The lawsuit was filed against the MSHSL, Lakeville South High School, Neil Strader and Craig Perry seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages. The basis of this action was that the decision to ban this female student from trying out for the boys’ tennis team violated MSHSL Bylaws and violated her right to due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. It was claimed that Neil Strader “misconstrued and misapplied relevant League Bylaw, Constitution, and Official Handbook provisions in depriving the plaintiff of her constitutionally protected property right to participate fully in her education, including interscholastic athletics and the 2017 LSHS Boys Tennis Team. Even more, Defendants have knowingly collaborated to deprive the plaintiff and her family of, or to conform to, the full complement of constitutionally protected requirements of due process.” It was further alleged that upon receiving notice of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, Mr. Strader continually deflected blame for the student’s ban on Craig Perry and the MSHSL, upheld the ban even while it was in the process of being appealed, and denied the plaintiff’s right, under due process, to receive a fair hearing. The female student is described by her parents and those who know her as a “committed, discrete, bright, hard-working, and well-mannered young woman who is a fully enrolled and bona fide member in good standing of Lakeview South High School (LSHS). She is also an accomplished athlete who meets every rule and requirement to try-out for, and compete in, boy’s tennis at LSHS, which holds its tryouts April 5-6, 2017.” Furthermore, “on top of her model behavior, dedication to hard-work, and thirst for achievement, the plaintiff’s peers, coaches, parents, friends, and the captains of the boys’ team encourage and support her desire to try out for the boys’ team,” according to her mother’s Affidavit.
Recently, the lawsuit was favorably resolved on behalf of the plaintiff in short order resulting in reversal of the school’s decision. The court ruled the female student was, in fact, eligible to try out and play for the Lakeview South High School boys’ tennis team. Based upon this ruling, she was permitted to attend practice and subsequent matches upon making the team, with no restrictions. The court held the denial of the female student’s ability to participate in tryouts for the boys’ tennis team was unwarranted and violated her constitutional rights to due process. Specifically, the court determined that Neil Strader’s interpretation of MSHSL Bylaw 109 was erroneous, and that all necessary requirements to enable the female student to tryout, and play, for the boys’ tennis team were satisfied.


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