Sports eligibility of Lima Senior student still in question

By J Swygart -

LIMA — Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge David Cheney has recused himself from hearing remaining arguments in a civil lawsuit filed over an eligibility ruling by the Ohio High School Athletic Association regarding a Lima Senior High School student-athlete.

Lima residents Robert and Nicole Nelson have filed a lawsuit in Allen County Common Pleas Court against the OHSAA in an attempt to gain athletic eligibility for a teenage boy for whom they have been appointed as legal guardians.

The student-athlete, identified in court documents simply as J.R., was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 2002 and later moved with his biological parents to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In August 2016 the Nelsons filed the necessary paperwork to become J.R.’s legal guardians and that request was granted by the court on Jan. 27 of this year.

Court filings indicate that J.R. and his biological mother selected the Nelsons to become the teenager’s legal guardians “because they are two highly professional adults … who would encourage J.R. to achieve academic success.”

Currently a freshman at Lima Senior High School, the teenager “seeks to participate in basketball and track or lacrosse at Lima Senior,” according to court records. Earlier this fall Lima Senior Athletic Director John Zell contacted OHSAA officials to determine J.R.’s eligibility.

Court documents show that Roxanne Price, director of compliance and sporting behavior for the state athletic association, said the OHSAA, citing Bylaw 4-6-3, determined J.R. to be athletically ineligible “because his biological parents reside outside Ohio.” Prices said in court documents that there are exceptions to those bylaws but further said that J.R.’s case does not meet the legal thresholds for eligibility.

The Nelsons challenged that ruling, and during a Nov. 21 ruling in Allen County Common Pleas Court, Cheney issued a temporary restraining order that called the OHSAA’s conduct in the case “arbitrary and capricious” and ruled J.R. eligible to participate in interscholastic sports pending the resolution of the case.

The OHSAA filed a memorandum with the court in opposition to the Nelson couple’s request for “extraordinary relief” and to overturn Cheney’s temporary restraining order.

In the meantime, Cheney recused himself from the case due to his ties with the school and was replaced by retired Montgomery County Appeals Court James Brogan, who will preside over the remainder of the case.

No further hearings have as yet been scheduled.

By J Swygart

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