Minnesota high school quarterback's suspension will stand, US District Court judge rules
In her 10-page ruling issued Friday morning, Nov. 26, Judge Ann D. Montgomery ruled that granting the restraining order and allowing the quarterback to play "would change, rather than preserve, the status quo."
CHATFIELD, Minn. -- The suspension of the Chatfield High School football team's quarterback will stand, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Friday, Nov. 26, when she denied his request for a temporary restraining order that would allow him to play in the state championship game while he appealed the game officials' ruling.
In her 10-page ruling issued Friday morning, Judge Ann D. Montgomery ruled that granting the restraining order and allowing the quarterback to play "would change, rather than preserve, the status quo."
The suit was brought Tuesday, Nov. 23, by Sam Backer and his family, who are only identified by their initials in the filing. Backer was suspended from today's state football championship game because he had two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the team's last game.
"S.B.’s ejection and one-game suspension still allows him to remain on the football team, engage in school activities, and participate in all interscholastic athletics except the next scheduled game in the tournament series," Montgomery wrote in her ruling. "Even if S.B. could show a constitutionally protected property interest, he was afforded adequate process based on the demands of the situation."
A statement from Backer's attorney, Charles K. Maier, said the "family was hoping only for an opportunity to have their son’s suspension reviewed and are disappointed in the outcome."
"They are grateful to the parents who have reached out to share stories of their own children being denied the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of competing in the state tournament with no avenue for appeal. They hope that the MSHSL will reconsider its policy of not reviewing athlete suspensions under any circumstances and develop a fair process," the statement reads. "Today, my client and his family are focused entirely on cheering the Chatfield Gophers on to a victory in the state championship. They are a talented team and have worked hard all season for this chance."
Maier argued in the U.S. District Court filing that Backer was denied his right to an education by the suspension and that his 14th Amendment due process rights were being violated.
The Minnesota State High School League responded to the challenge, arguing in writing that the court should deny the request for a temporary restraining order as the lawsuit "seeks to have the judiciary rewrite MSHSL bylaws to require the MSHSL to allow students, parents, and/or coaches to challenge, in court, the on-the-field discretionary decisions of contest officials." The MSHSL also argues that there is no “constitutionally protected property or liberty interest in participating” in an extracurricular varsity competition.
In Friday's ruling, Montgomery ruled that "the decision to issue unsportsmanlike conduct penalties is a judgment call best left to the discretion of the contest official or referee on the field."
The judge did find that Backer demonstrated the threat of irreparable harm because of the loss of an opportunity to play in a state championship game, but that did not outweigh the MSHSL’s interests in enforcing its bylaws.
"Although the game is an important one, S.B. remains on the varsity football team and will be eligible to compete in varsity competitions after serving his one-game suspension," the ruling read. "Reinstating S.B. before a trial on the merits would allow him to bypass the MSHSL’s application of its Bylaws and reduce the MSHSL’s ability to enforce its own rules. Requiring the MSHSL to engage in an evidentiary hearing whenever a student-athlete is ejected would impose a significant and unreasonable burden given the volume of competitions and decisions by contest officials each year."
Chatfield High School and the district administration did not object to the suspension, according to court filings.
Backer, a junior, was ejected in the third quarter of the Class AA state semifinal football game on Thursday, Nov. 18, against Barnesville for accumulating two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the game.
"S.B. disputes the unsportsmanlike conduct calls, arguing that he was not the instigator and that his conduct related to the second call was in reaction to the twisting of his ankle and to protect his own safety," court documents state.
Chatfield is scheduled to compete in the Class AA Prep Bowl, the state championship game, against West Central Area/Ashby at 1 p.m. today, Nov. 26, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.