CHARLESTON – A judge has ruled that a girls youth all-star basketball team can play in this weekend’s championship tournament.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey ruled in favor of the West Side Basketball’s 5th grade all-star team during an afternoon hearing on Feb. 21. The team had filed a petition seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Kanawha Valley Youth Girls Basketball League earlier in the week.
Bailey ruled that the West Side team could play in the Feb. 22 championship tournament. She said keeping the team out of the tournament caused irreparable harm to the team, that the likelihood of harm to the league was minimal, that the likelihood of success on the merits for the petitioner was high and that the public interest was for allowing the team to compete.
“Judge Bailey recognized that this team is eligible and always was eligible,” Teresa Toriseva, the attorney who represented the team, told The West Virginia Record. “After hearing extensive argument and presentation from both sides, she ruled in favor of letting the kids play.
“The courtroom truly is where we all stand equal and voices are heard.”
Toriseva said Bailey only ruled on the West Side team, but that the league said it would allow other teams deemed ineligible based on the same rules would be allowed to compete this weekend as well.
According to the team’s original petition, West Side entered the 5th grade team into the league to play games in the round-robin tournament that began Jan. 19. That would determine seeding for the season-ending single-elimination tournament, which is Feb. 22. The team played in those round-robin games.
But on Feb. 13, the league told West Side the team would not be able to compete in the season-ending tournament. West Side filed a protest Feb. 14, and the league denied the protest Feb. 17. That decision was appealed, and West Side asked the league to reconsider its denial.
That’s when the league said it did not recognize an exception to a new league rule regarding eligibility requirements when a girl does not get selected for her home franchise. West Side claims teams from Hoover and Nitro were permitted the exceptions for players and are being allowed to compete in the tournament.
“Finding exceptions for Hoover and Nitro, but not West Side, is at best arbitrary and capricious, if not simply an intentional unequal misapplication of the KVYGBL Constitution and By-Laws,” the petition states.
The league also put the issue to a vote of all members, and the vote was 7-1 to deny West Side’s protest. The KVYGBL consists of teams from Kanawha, Putnam, Logan and Cabell counties.
“Although it has tried everything within the framework of the KVYGBL, the West Side girls must now seek this court’s intervention in order to avoid the irreparable harm of being stopped from their pursuit of happiness by the KVYGBL’s unequal and arbitrary and capricious interpretation of its Constitution and By-Laws,” the petition states.
The petition says West Side’s 5th grade team won the season-ending tournament for the first time last season. As a result, the league attempted to change eligibility rules.
“The attempted rule change would exclude girls from the KVYGBL if a girls’ basketball team was not fielded in their school district which defines the ‘home franchise,’” the petition states. “Fortunately for the West Side girls, the KVYGBL only amended its rules summary and failed to change its Constitution and By-Laws.”
West Side says that while the new summary supports the conclusion reached by the KVYGBL, the Constitution and By-Laws do not remove the exclusion. The exclusion allows a girl to change home franchises for all stars if “[t]he player is eligible to be picked and is legitimately not picked for her All-Star team despite her eligibility to be selected.”
West Side says the two girls the league has deemed ineligible do meet the exception because they were not legitimately selected for their home franchise’s all-star team.
West Side says its 5th grade girls team will suffer irreparable harm if it isn’t allowed to play in the tournament.
“These girls have worked hard over the past year and this season and deserve a shot at defending their title,” the petition states, adding that the league will not be harmed by the injunction. “Instead of taking a mea culpa and changing its Constitution and By-Laws for next season, KVYGBL appears set to make eight fierce young ladies the casualty of their drafting errors and unequal treatment.
“The public interest wants people, especially children, treated fairly in their pursuit of their dreams. While there will be several disappointments along the way for these girls, today’s is avoidable. Let the kids play and proudly represent the West Side of Charleston, West Virginia.”
The petition also said the other teams and athletes “deserve the opportunity to face the best competition.”
“All the girls in the tournament benefit from the West Side girls, a team that they have competed against throughout the season,” it states. “The public interest is further served by providing all teams to have a chance to legitimately unseat the defending champions.”
West Side seeks a temporary restraining order compelling the league to allow the 5th grade team to compete in the tournament as well as a hearing on a preliminary injunction to preclude the team from competing in the tournament.
In its motion to dismiss and response dated Feb. 20, the league said all participating leagues received a copy of the revised rules and by-laws that included rule changes – “particularly those concerning player and team eligibility.”
The league also says the West Side team did not send a representative to either of the two December meetings where rules changes were discussed.
“At no time during any discussion, planning meetings or conference calls concerning the 2020 KVYGBL season or any rule changes was the West Side basketball team or the West Side Basketball league mentioned, discussed or referred to,” the league’s motion stated. “Any suggestion or accusation that rule changes made to the 2020 season concerned or were directed to West Side is completely and wholly inaccurate.
“Indeed, almost the entire discussion concerning the rule changes on player and team eligibility related to the St. Albans league – the league that desired the rule changes. No participating league at these meetings had any knowledge of any eligibility questions related to any individual that may be playing for West Side in the upcoming season. Indeed, how could KVYGBL have had such knowledge considering no team at the time of these meetings had even submitted a roster for the upcoming season? Furthermore, no representative at the meeting had any involvement in reviewing player eligibility prior to or during the 2019 season.”
In its motion to dismiss, the league documented some of the teams that made decisions regarding eligibility based on the new rules. For example, it says Logan didn’t allow several girls to play in the 2020 season because they would have made the team ineligible for the season-ending tournament. Milton did the same. St. Albans had some teams that it knew were ineligible for the season-ending tournament.
The league said eight teams – in grades 3 through 5 – were ruled ineligible to play in the season-ending tournament.
The league also said teams were asked to submit eligibility documentation of players by Jan. 20. It says West Side didn’t do so until Feb. 12, and it says some West Side documentation still hasn’t been turned in.
“The KVYGBL appreciates the desire of all teams and participants to play in the season-ending tournament,” the league’s motion states. “It further pains the KVYGBL to even have to address these issues in this forum. However, other participating teams complied with the rules and made significant sacrifices in an attempt to comply with these rules.
“For those participating teams that made those sacrifices, the KVYGBL feels obligated to file this response. … Any eligibility decisions were made uniformly and consistently – regardless of the teams at issue, the team’s record during the regular season or the team’s potential to win the season-ending tournament.”
In a Feb. 21 reply that was filed before Bailey had determined there would be an afternoon hearing, the West Side team said the league failed to change its Constitution and By-Laws to meet the intentions of limiting participation.
“This inconvenient truth prevails whether KVYGBL wants to acknowledge it or not,” the team’s reply states. “The West Side girls agree the two girls in question live outside their team’s district. But here, the exception applies since they were not picked by their home franchise (neither had a home team).
“The West Side girls acknowledge that the KBYGBL removed the exception for its all-star rules summary but that it failed to remove it from its governing document.”
The team said it appreciates the volunteer hours put in by those who work for the league.
“But that does not mean that they should stand by idly,” the reply states. “KVYGBL could have done the honorable thing – acknowledge their error and changed it for next season.
“Instead, they forced these fierce young ladies to resort to tossing up a Hail Mary at the buzzer.”
The league was represented by Christopher Pence of Hardy Pence in Charleston.
“It has always been the goal of the league to promote community based basketball for elementary school-aged girls,” Pence told The Record. “Following the regular season in the fall, the league organizes ten games over a five-week period. The West Side girls participated in these games. However, the rules provide specific residency requirements for participation in this weekend's season ending tournament.
“The league implemented these rules to protect the competitive integrity of the league and were implemented after every affected organization had an opportunity to be present, comment and vote. These rules were uniformly enforced and resulted in the disqualification of several other teams.
“While we are disappointed with the court's ruling, we will obviously comply. Although no final decision has been made, I expect the league will appeal, as we believe this ruling affects the right of a private organization to establish rules to govern its affairs.”
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 20-C-158