Parents: Hazed students not allowed to play sports

Feb 11, 2012, 9:04 PM

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The parents of two boys who say the teens were punched during high school baseball hazing rituals say they’re being victimized again _ this time because they aren’t being allowed to play sports after switching schools.

State rules prevent high school students from switching districts just to play sports, ostensibly to prevent star athletes from essentially being recruited by rival districts. But the parents of these two boys say school officials made no effort to help them escape the hazing that sent them both to hospitals for treatment.

Both boys, who were 15 years old at the time of the alleged abuse last year at Picayune Memorial High School, transferred to other schools because they said the verbal tormenting persisted after the physical abuse. But the Mississippi High School Athletic Association ruled them ineligible to play sports, a move that caused one boy’s new school to forfeit more than a dozen basketball game wins because he had been on the team.

The boys had applied for a hardship from the association, which would have allowed them to play sports. But the guidelines allow such exceptions only for medical reasons, and the boys’ request was denied.

“I want to bring it to the public what they are condoning. They are not worried about the kids,” said Brent Travis, who said his son Christian was punched so hard by a teammate in January 2011 that he may have fractured a rib. The doctor couldn’t tell on the X-ray because the boy’s bruise was so severe, Travis said.

Travis said the boy who punched his son is the Picayune School District superintendent’s nephew. The boy was given a two-game suspension, but that was reduced to a one-game suspension, Travis said.

The superintendent, Dean Shaw, didn’t respond to a message left by The Associated Press on Friday. Brent Harrell, assistant superintendent, said officials couldn’t comment because of pending litigation in a separate case.

Travis’ son is the second player to come forward with allegations of hazing at Picayune Memorial. Amy Dixon said she removed both her sons from Picayune after the older one, Jeffrey Dixon Jr., suffered a seizure and was hospitalized after being punched in the chest before a game in April 2011.

No one has been criminally charged.

Dixon and her husband filed a lawsuit in November against the Picayune School District, baseball coach Cayne Stockstill and several players. The lawsuit was filed in Pearl River County Circuit Court, but the school district has asked to have it moved to federal court. The case is pending.

Amy Dixon and Brent Travis said they applied for hardship eligibility for their children to play sports at new schools, but the Mississippi High School Athletic Association turned them down. Christian Travis’ new school, Pearl River Central, had to forfeit 15 basketball games because he was ruled ineligible to play after he was on the team.

Dixon said her son isn’t using the hazing as an excuse to get to a better team. He had not made the varsity team yet, and she said the hazing forced him to leave a school that had been the defending district champs.

MHSAA rules say students who transfer to another district must sit out for a year before they can play sports again. And they must also live in the district where they play sports.

Christian Travis is likely to be allowed to play sports next year because he is living in the district in which he goes to school. Amy Dixon said it’s not that simple for her family. MHSAA told her she’d have to move to the district in which her kids now go to school for them to play sports next year.

“It’s not like I can just uproot. I have a house, a mortgage,” she said.

Don Hinton, MHSAA’s executive director, said the organization couldn’t determine that a hardship existed under the association’s guidelines, which deal only with medical issues.

Hinton said the students’ new schools could approach MHSAA with new developments in the case when the lawsuits are resolved.

“Schools are always open to make requests concerning eligibility issues,” he said. “We’re always going to try to help our schools and our young people.”

Andy Kivlan, athletic director for the Pearl River County School District said school officials felt there should have been a hardship allowance for Travis, “but we stand by the ruling of the association.”

Guidelines published in 2009 about the federal No Child Left Behind law say students who are victims of violent crimes at school must be allowed to transfer and participate in activities at their new school. Furthermore, guidelines from 2004 say that victims can transfer even if criminal charges are not filed.

Dixon said the law is on her side because Mississippi adopted the school choice provisions from the federal law in 2002 giving student victims those transfer rights.

Picayune is a city of about 10,800 in Pearl River County, about 50 miles northeast of New Orleans. The Picayune High football team won the Class 5A state championship this past year. The baseball team has a history of high-caliber play, and won the state championship in 2002. That year the Maroon Tide was ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s national poll.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Parents: Hazed students not allowed to play sports