HUNTINGTON - Huntington High basketball star O.J. Mayo was awarded a temporary restraining order Tuesday, meaning he can play in the Highlanders' next two games, both against nationally ranked opponents.
Mayo -- who did start Tuesday night's 73-66 victory over Lakewood Artesia (Calif.) in Durham, N.C. -- and five other members of the Huntington High boys basketball team filed petitions in Cabell Circuit Court against a ruling from the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, which suspended the players for the next two season games. The players were suspended after an altercation during a Jan. 26 game against Capital High School.
Cabell Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon ruled Tuesday the teammates could continue to play and set hearings for the players on Feb. 9. O'Hanlon also barred the WVSSAC from imposing the suspensions until after the hearing and from punishing Mayo for questioning the authority of the commission.
The WVSSAC rules state the protest of a contest or ejection is not allowed. Paul Farrell Jr., one of the three attorneys representing the players, told The Huntington Herald-Dispatch the players need to have their opinion heard.
"Given the circumstances, these kids deserve an opportunity to be heard before they are denied the chance of a lifetime because of an arbitrary enforcement of a rule they did not intend to violate," Farrell told the paper.
During the Jan. 26 game, Mayo, who has committed to play at the University of Southern California, was given two technical fouls from referee Michael Lazo and ejected from the game. Under WVSSAC regulations, if a player received two technical fouls, which automatically ejects the player from the game, the player is given a suspension equal to 10 percent of a team's schedule, which usually means a two-game suspension.
The suit, filed by Mayo's attorneys Michael Woelfel and Matthew Woelfel, claims Lazo addressed Mayo repeatedly, at one time stating, "Keep running your mouth. You better worry about yourself cause I'm going to throw you out," after Mayo warned his teammates about the team's foul trouble.
In a statement by Lazo, he says he observed Mayo taunting a player, so he gave Mayo a technical foul and a warning, walked to the scorer's table, then turned around to find Mayo taunting the same player again, leading to the second technical and the ejection. During the course of the altercation, Lazo claims Mayo bumped into him, causing him to fall to the ground. That incident is under investigation by the WVSSAC.
Part of the suit filed on Mayo's behalf included a three-page handwritten letter from Huntington Coach Lloyd McGuffin, in which McGuffin states "Lazo tells me that O.J. Mayo better not talk with him tonight because he is not going to put up with him at all."
Also, five other Huntington High players were suspended because they supposedly left the team bench during the altercation. Those players are Brandon Hutchison, C.J. Crawford, Michael Morton, Colin Oakley and Lambros Svingos.
Per O'Hanlon's ruling, all six players were able to play Jan. 30 against Artesia (21-1) and Feb. 2 against Scott County, Ky. Huntington is 15-0 and is the top-ranked team in several national polls.