Father Sues School for $40 Million After Son Kicked Off Track Team
Is it a right or a privilege for a student to participate in school-based extracurricular athletics?
That's the basis of a $40 million federal lawsuit recently filed by one New Jersey father whose son was booted off his school's track team in early May, as first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ervin Mears Jr. filed the suit on behalf of his son, Mawusimensah Mears, who was dismissed from his school's track team on May 6. The elder Mears told the Inquirer that the school cited unexcused absences from practice as the official reason his son was removed from the team, although the father claims that a death in the family and an injured leg were the actual reasons his son missed practices.
Less than two weeks later, the father filed the $40 million lawsuit against Sterling Regional (N.J.) High School, naming the coach, athletic director, principal, school board, and superintendent, the paper reports. He reportedly filed the lawsuit on his own, without a lawyer's help.
"Participation in extracurricular activities is a right," Mears said to the paper.
The suit seeks $40 million, in addition to 2012 and 2013 varsity letters and championship jackets for his son. The father fears that his son's dismissal from the track team could jeopardize his chances of obtaining a college athletic scholarship. His suit claims that not allowing his son to compete constitutes an "abusive school environment," according to the paper. The interim district superintendent declined to respond to the lawsuit, the paper reports, due to the pending litigation and student privacy.
The district's policy regarding extracurricular activities says "all pupils may have the opportunity to participate without discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, national origin, handicap, or socioeconomic status," although it doesn't ever specify whether participation in extracurricular athletics is a "right" or a "privilege." In upstate N.J., the Paterson board of education policy clearly states that "participation in competitive athletics and co-curricular activities is a privilege, not a right."
As noted by college-sports expert John Infante, previous court rulings would take issue with Mears' classifying school sports participation as a right.
Courts have long held that participation is not a right, just a privilege, and you cannot sue for a spot on a team.— John Infante (@John_Infante) May 28, 2013
However, Infante also said that "it is almost inevitable that some court will side with the athlete in one of these cases."
Not to mention, as Infante later noted on Twitter, rights aren't necessarily absolute.
So even if you have a constitutional right to be on a sports team, what that might mean is a right to a hearing before you are cut.— John Infante (@John_Infante) May 28, 2013
I'd be curious to hear your opinions on this. Should participation in extracurricular athletics be considered a right or a privilege for students? What should happen if a district doesn't specify whether it's a right or a privilege in their official extracurricular-activity policy?
Photo: Mawusimensah Mears, a sophomore at Sterling Regional High School in Camden County, N.J., displays the many track medals he won during his running career. His father, Ervin Mears Jr., filed a federal lawsuit when his son was ousted from the high school track team. (Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)
Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.