Old School

An overage high-school football player gets set to hammer kids who actually belong in the game.

Over the past few years, few people have been more openly critical of the Arizona Interscholastic Association than I. The body that governs high-school sports in Arizona has an almost buffoonish pro-Phoenix bias; for years it allowed certain member schools to openly cheat in such areas as school enrollment (and therefore classification), and its autocratic way of running state tournaments often manages to suck the life out of entire arenas full of thousands of screaming fans.

That nagging pro-Phoenix thing is still there (it's actually worse than ever), but, under new leadership, the AIA is doing a decent job in fighting the uphill battle against what can only be called parental abuse of the system. Unfortunately, we live in a society where an awful lot of people have renounced their parental responsibilities, and it's getting worse by the day.

The AIA is locked in a battle for the very soul of high-school sports and it's being besieged on all sides by selfish parents, shady lawyers and bone-headed, opportunistic politicians. Just last spring, some buttflake politician tried to ram a bill through the Legislature that would have allowed kids to transfer to any school they wanted--any time they wanted--and then be instantly eligible to play sports. The potential abuses to which the fragile system would be subjected are endless.

The bill also would have forced high schools to accept home-schooled kids on sports teams by exempting those kids from the requirements that real-schooled kids have to meet. There were several other unsavory elements to the bill for which its sponsor will almost certainly burn in Hell, but last-second efforts managed to derail it. The Son of Satan has promised to bring it up again next session.

The latest attack on reason and order came a couple weeks ago, when a Tucson judge ordered that a 19-year-old man at Salpointe Catholic should be allowed to play high school football. The judge dismissed as arbitrary the AIA's rule that renders ineligible any athlete who turns 19 before September 1. This ruling, which cannot be used as a precedent, per se, will nevertheless open the floodgates to a slew of people wanting to squeeze another year out of prep sports, taking the spot of a kid who's more deserving if for no other reason than that he's more high-school aged.

You may have read about it in the paper, although Salpointe tends to get reverential treatment in the dailies. It's just like every other high school. It's got good kids and bad kids, good teachers and bad teachers. It sells itself as being superior and if parents want to buy into that, it's their money.

A lot of judges' and lawyers' kids go to Salpointe. Why, just a couple years ago there was that drunken graduation party at a judge's house. It was in all the papers ... well, actually, it was just in the Weekly. I have a videotape of it, where the puke is a vivid green and the bloodshot eyes are a deep red. You're all invited to come over to my house and watch it.

But this isn't about Salpointe, necessarily, and I'm certainly not suggesting that the judge ruled the way he did because of Salpointe. That, at least, would make some kind of sense. This is about the "screw everybody else" mentality that pervades sports these days. Reportedly, the 19-year-old is still in school because he had to repeat the third and eighth grades due to learning disabilities. Yet he's at Salpointe, which has no remedial academic programs whatsoever. He must be able to run reeeeal fast.

By ruling that September 1 is an arbitrary date, the judge is, in effect, saying that any date is arbitrary. The AIA will probably have to go back and write a rule that makes all 19-year-olds ineligible, which would be unfair in the other direction. If the judge ruled on a narrow interpretation of the law, then this is one of those cases where the law is indeed an ass. Common sense is being ignored here, and chaos is right around the corner.

Look, life is unfair and so are sports. Denis Leary once said, "Hey, I wanted to grow up to play shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Life sucks; get a helmet!" In high school, kids get injured, they go through growth spurts at different ages, they struggle in calculus. There is no right to play high-school sports; it's a privilege that must be earned. And this guy hasn't earned it.

So, Judge Lee, if 19 is OK, why not 20? Why not 21? What if he just matured late? Hey, here's one: What if some kid shot up his junior high school when he was 14, got a sheisty lawyer to get him tried as a juvenile, and now he's 18, free from the clutches of the law, and ready to start his high-school athletic career as a freshman? Is that OK with you?

A friend of mine who covers the courts tells me that Lee is actually a pretty good judge. I trust my friend's judgment, so I just have to believe that the judge had a seizure or something. Whatever the case, his ruling will send tremors through the high-school sports world and will do nothing but harm. (Amazingly, this same reporter--who claims to revere prep sports almost as much as I do--is not all that bothered by the ruling. He suggested that I go easy on the kid. What kid? The guy's probably been shaving almost as long as I have.)

All I can do is hope that this wrong-headed ruling doesn't spread like wildfire. I also hope that the 19-year-old, who will be 20- to 30-percent older than many of his competitors in the roughest of all contact sports, doesn't hurt anybody else.

But, from Salpointe's perspective, I guess there's one upside. It won't be too long before this guy will be old enough to buy beer for all of his teammates.

Old School is not showing in any theaters in the area.