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Dziewa v. Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association

January 16, 2009

JOHN DZIEWA AND LORI DZIEWA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF JOSHUA DZIEWA, A MINOR PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, INC., DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc.2) and Defendant's Responses thereto. For the reasons stated below, this Court will deny Plaintiff's Motion.

BACKGROUND

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association ("PIAA") is a non-profit corporation and a voluntary membership organization composed of most public and private high schools in Pennsylvania. PIAA consists of twelve (12) geographic districts, each of which has a district committee elected by member schools within the district. Among the PIAA membership are Pennsbury High School ("PHS") and Council Rock South High School ("CRS").

The PIAA serves to regulate interscholastic athletic competition among member schools, and through its members, establish rules governing student eligibility for participation in competition between PIAA member schools. Among the areas of regulation are minimum academic requirements, attendance, health, and age requirements.

Yet, the area of regulation central to this action is that of eligibility restrictions in the instance of student transfers. Specifically, the PIAA maintains that because the focus of educational institutions is academics, students that transfer schools for athletic reasons subordinate academics to athletics, and alter the dynamics of interscholastic athletics. As such, the PIAA has adopted an approach that is intended to strongly discourage and deter students from transferring for athletic purposes. PIAA Constitution and By-Laws, Art VI. This approach has led to the authority of Regional Panels and District Committees to change eligibility status within their respective jurisdictions to meet PIAA objectives.

The pertinent section of the PIAA Constitution and By-Laws currently provides that any student that a reviewing PIAA panel determines to have transferred due to athletic intent is rendered ineligible for participation in interscholastic sports for one year from the date of transfer. The rule mentions the PIAA's recognition of the difficulty in consistently and effectively policing athletically motivated transfers, and determining the role that athletics has played in a transfer decision. The rule further explains that the PIAA has chosen to address this by providing Regional Panels and District Committees the authority to change eligibility status within their jurisdiction.

Joshua Dziewa - Accomplished Wrestler

Joshua Dziewa is currently a junior at CRS, located in PIAA District One (1). Joshua previously attended PHS for his freshman and sophomore years, during which time he resided with his mother and father, Plaintiffs Lori and John Dziewa, in the Pennsbury School District.

Joshua has participated and excelled in the sport of wrestling from a very young age. Recently, Joshua has competed and won several interscholastic and freestyle matches, giving him a national ranking as high as fourth in his respective weight class. Joshua served as captain during his sophomore year, and finished the season with a record of forty-four (44) wins, and zero (0) losses. Joshua anticipated that he would enjoy similar successes as a captain in his junior year on the PHS Wrestling Team.

School Transfer from PHS to CRS

Joshua's parents, Plaintiffs John and Lori Dziewa, experienced marital differences and separated in Summer 2008. In May 2008, John Dziewa contacted a realtor regarding the purchase of a new residence, and on August 29, 2008, closed on the purchase of a new property.

Due to declining grades and class rank between Joshua's freshman and sophomore year, Plaintiffs' were concerned about Joshua's education, and attributed the downward turn in his grades to the "block scheduling" system at PHS. Plaintiffs believed that the traditional academic schedule would be more conducive to Joshua's learning ability, and Plaintiff John Dziewa's new property is located in the CRS School District, which follows such a schedule. As a result of this, and because Joshua expressed a desire to live with his father, Plaintiffs entered into a formal Custody And Parental Agreement dated September 2, 2008, whereby Joshua's primary residence would be with his father.

Upon arriving at CRS, Joshua wished to participate in the upcoming wrestling season. Plaintiff John Dziewa completed a PIAA transfer waiver request form, requesting PHS consent to Joshua's immediate eligibility to wrestle at CRS. The reason provided for the transfer on the completed the form was as follows: "Academic and building climate. Inefficiency of school district (PHS). Position my son to succeed better academically." While Plaintiffs informed CRS that they were separated, Plaintiff John Dziewa did not include this information on the PIAA waiver request form for privacy reasons. Plaintiffs later learned that the waiver request form was not necessary for Joshua to be eligible for wrestling at CRS, as the PIAA By-Laws provide for the immediate eligibility of a student upon transfer due to marital separation. See PIAA Constitution and By-Laws, Art. VI, Section 2, Paragraph B.

PHS Challenges Transfer

On September 12, 2008, the PHS principal returned the waiver request form, challenging Joshua's eligibility for participation in the CRS Wrestling Program. The PHS principal requested that the PIAA District Committee review the circumstances of the transfer to determine whether the transfer was in any way motivated by athletic intent or athletic recruiting. The PHS principal also checked two boxes on the waiver request form believed to apply to the present circumstances. The first box indicated that either the student or parent had a problem with a PHS coach. The second box indicated that either student or parent desires that the student participate in a more successful or higher profile program.

The PIAA District One Committee conducted a hearing on October 15, 2008 regarding the challenge, and ruled Joshua ineligible to participate in wrestling for one year from the date of his transfer. Plaintiffs then appealed the District One Committee decision to the PIAA Board of Appeal. On Friday, November 14, 2008, the PIAA Board of Appeal conducted another hearing and sustained the District One Committee decision. PIAA's Executive Director issued a letter on November 25, 2008, detailing twenty-four (24) findings of fact in support of the Board of Appeal's decision. Among the findings of fact was the board's determination ...


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