Judge denies injunction request in Prairie Seeds soccer case

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The soccer field was locked and no one was practicing at Prairie Seed Academy in Brooklyn Park Min., Thursday October 25, 2012. The soccer team was disqualified for the state tournament.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Prairie Seeds Academy's effort to reverse the Minnesota State High School League's decision to disqualify the boys' soccer team from the Class A state tournament competition was denied Friday afternoon by a Hennepin County judge.

After an hour-long hearing and several hours of reviewing the case, District Judge Jay Quam ruled against the injunction ending Prairie Seeds' season because of the school's use of an ineliglble player.

"It is an unfortunate fact of life that, from Lance Armstrong all the way down to Pee Wee hockey, some will gain a competitive advantage by breaking the rules," Judge Jay Quam wrote in his 18-page opinion. "When rules are broken -- deliberately or not -- the integrity of the entire sport is called into question, and everyone suffers."

The league's investigation into Prairie Seeds began after a fight at the end of the team's section championship victory over Totino-Grace. Originally, the investigation was intended to hand out discipline to players involved in the fight.

However, the league also investigated the report of an ineligible player, which was the basis for its decision.

"While there is no evidence before the court that [the student] or Prairie Seeds Academy acted with malicious or nefarious intent, the ... by-laws do not make exceptions for well-intended mistakes," Quam wrote.

A written statement from Prairie Seeds after the decision said: "This is a very unfortunate situation and although PSA fully supported the disciplinary action MSHSL took toward the students involved in last week's altercation, we continue to disagree with their decision to disqualify the school. We stand firmly behind our school, our students, our academic philosophy, and our athletic programs."

Duluth Marshall, which had boarded a bus and was on its way to the Twin Cities for the scheduled 1A quarterfinal, will advance to Monday's semifinals at the Metrodome.

During the hourlong hearing, a lawyer for Prairie Seeds claimed that the Minnesota State High School League's disqualification of the school from tournament because they deemed a student ineligible was an unfair "death sentence" for a team that worked hard.

The MSHSL's attorney countered that the school ignored transfer eligibility rules and that allowing the team to play would create an administrative nightmare, effectively rewrite the rules and make them difficult, if not impossible to enforce in the future.

The school had expected several player suspensions as a result of a brawl that erupted after the Lycans beat Totino-Grace. But nothing that involved eligibility was discussed at a meeting with the MSHSL, a school official said.

The player in question was already suspended due to the fight.

Addressing the melee in court, Prairie Seeds attorney Joan Quade said the Brooklyn Park charter school was being unfairly targeted because of the fight with Totino-Grace. She said Prairie Seeds, which is 98 percent minority students, were taunted by Totino students, who said, "go back to your own country," used the N-Word and chanted "U-S-A" when goals were scored.

"Are you suggesting someone from Totino-Grace is pushing this forward out of spite?" Quam asked.

"I am," Quade responded.

MSHSL attorney Kevin Beck countered that a Richfield faculty member saw video of the fight and noticed that the student in the Prairie Seeds uniform had formerly attended Richfield. In fact, he said, Totino does not benefit from Prairie Seeds' disqualification.

The judge wrote in his opinion: "If plaintiff's allegations regarding Totino-Grace's boys' soccer team are true, the court finds no solace in disqualifying a team that has overcome that level of harassment and disrespect in an athletic competition."

During arguments, Quade argued that the player in question transferred from Richfield to Prairie Seeds twice, in 2011 and in 2012. During his first transfer, the paperwork allowing him to participate in athletics was completed, but when he returned to Richfield he did not participate in athletics.

In his second return in the fall of 2012, the paperwork should have remained in effect. Further, she said, an MSHSL investigation into his academic eligibility did not include questioning of his studies at Prairie Seeds, where his performance has improved. She chalked up the disqualification to a series of administrative errors.

"Here, they've given a death sentence to a bunch of young boys who have worked really hard all year because 'Well, you didn't file an administrative transfer.'"

Beck, flanked by MSHSL Associate Director Craig Perry, said the organization's bylaws say that if an eligible student plays, whether deliberately or accidentally, "Forfeiture of the game shall be automatic and mandatory."

In this case, he said, when a student transfers schools, they are not eligible again for one calender year from the date of the transfer of schools. The bylaw, he said, is to avoid the transfer of schools solely for athletic purposes.

Further, they found the student was academically ineligible because he is on track to graduate next year, which has him in school for more than four years, a violation of requirements. He said that Prairie Seeds had previously been placed on a "performance plan" for failure to follow MSHSL bylaws.

"The league looks at this as a violation of transfer bylaws, regardless of intent," Beck said.

"You don't recognize malicious intent?" Quam asked.

"Not on the part of the student, your honor." Beck replied.

Quade told the judge that barring Prairie Seeds from playing in the tournament would cause irreparable harm, in that the game could never be replayed. On the flip side, Beck countered that, by allowing the school to play, "you're taking the chance from every other team to win."

Star Tribune staff writer David La Vaque contributed to this report.

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