Midvale • If Lone Peak repeats as 5A basketball champions this winter, the Knights will have to do it without their 6-foot-7 center.
Junior Eric Mika was denied eligibility Wednesday by the Utah High School Activities Association after a panel determined Mika's transfer from 2A Waterford wasn't precipitated by a hardship.
"While it's disappointing, it wouldn't have changed our decision either way," said Mika's father, Ron.
The decision represented the toughest and highest-profile stand taken by the association in the second year of its new transfer rule, under which parents must prove a "hardship" a nebulous term whose definition is ever-evolving was the cause.
The Mikas appealed to the board that their 16-year-old son was committing up to 15 hours a day at Waterford, including travel to and from their Alpine home within Lone Peak's boundaries and that the impending cancellation of Waterford's home-visit seminary program created a hardship.
The three-member panel was conversely influenced by the fact that Mika's two younger brothers still attend the Draper private school. Ron Mika is the chairman of the school's board of trustees, while Sue Mika is the head of the parents' association.
"I believe it's incumbent on families to do as much research as possible so we don't find it on ourselves in this situation," said Highland principal Paul Schulte, who chaired the UHSAA panel.
With Waterford last year, Mika averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds. He has offers from Utah State and Weber State. Lone Peak returns four starters from its championship team, including Brigham Young commits T.J. Haws and Nick Emery. The missing piece is center Jordan Hamilton, who graduated.
Chase Hansen, the Knights' 6-foot-3 quarterback who has committed to Utah, is expected to start at center. After enrolling at Lone Peak in the spring, Mika played in about a dozen summer-league games with Lone Peak at tournaments in Boston and Indianapolis.
The state association's attorney, Mark Van Wagoner, interrogated Mika on whether he was recruited to Lone Peak but later acknowledged there was no evidence of undue influence.
"No one ever pressured me or told me that we would be unbeatable," Mika said.
Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis said he was surprised by the decision to deny Mika eligibility.
"I know they [the UHSAA] have tightened some loopholes," Lewis said. "But there have been situations just like this that in the past have been ruled in favor of the kid."
Wednesday's hearing was procedurally the final step for the Mikas, but Ron Mika said the family would explore its options, including the possibility of a lawsuit.
"We'd consider it," he said, "but I don't know if that's prudent, advised, effective. I don't know the history of what's been done in the past, so we'd have to explore all that."
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Thursday's football schedule
• Lone Peak at Bingham,7 p.m.
• Maple Mountain at Provo 7 p.m.