High school student’s ability to play football goes to court

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — High school football season starts Thursday night. However, with a new season and a new team comes new controversy for one football player fighting to get onto the field.

The fight to get on the gridiron this weekend went through Judge Victor Lopez’s Bernalillo County courtroom Thursday.

“It’s not necessarily a friendly process unless you go through the court system,” said James Clayton.

James is running the legal route to get his son, Robert, back on the field for his junior year of high school. Robert is a wide receiver who reportedly switched from Cibola High School to Hope Christian High School this school year for his safety.

“The bullying thing was the number one reason why we didn’t want our child going to that school anymore,” James said.

However, athletes transferring to different schools has been a debate for years – there are rules in place to prevent families from creating super teams. The New Mexico Activities Association has rules for high school athletes who transfer – transfer students can’t play a varsity sport for 180 school days.

The court filing mentions how Robert did not go to Hope Christian with “the expectation that he was be anointed as the ‘chosen one.'” The attorney representing the Clayton family has a unique perspective.

“As a coach, I know both sides, right,” said Jerry Archuleta, attorney. “I would hate if my star athlete went and transferred to one of my rival teams.”

Archuleta said, in his experience, the NMAA is too focused on sports and not hearing other factors that would lead a student to change schools.

“Society is dealing with problems in our schools that we can’t handle,” Archuleta said. “There’s drugs, there’s violence, there’s weapons. So in essence, kids have to leave for one reason or another.”

Judge Lopez agreed.

“In these days, where you have school shootings and other issues and students are really sometimes afraid to go to school because of all the dangers they face – this is an important issue that needs to be addressed,” Lopez said.

Robert has been cleared for kickoff this weekend.

NMAA Rules

Does the NMAA have any other process to appeal these types of decisions? Yes, there’s a “hardship waiver” which is essentially the process the NMAA has set up to determine if a students’ difficulties, outside of sports, led to them transferring schools, which would then allow them to play.

In court, the NMAA attorney argued the Claytons’ did not go through that process, which was unfair to other students who did. However, it didn’t change the judge’s opinion.

The NMAA released a statement:

“The NMAA will continue to defend in court its decision to enforce bylaws established by our member schools.”