Prep basketball: Family of star Waterford player Eric Mika sues UHSAA over eligibility

Prep sports • Hoops player's family sues UHSAA for eligibility.
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The Utah High School Activities Association's transfer rule will have its day in court.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in 4th District Court in Provo seeks a reversal of the association's decision last month to deny a star basketball player eligibility at Lone Peak, despite hardships the six-page suit alleges were "threatening his health and safety."

Eric Mika played his first two years of high school at 2A Waterford. He transferred this summer to Lone Peak, the defending 5A basketball champion. Last season, he was an all-state selection by The Tribune and since has received scholarship offers from Utah State and Weber State.

The association's transfer rule, in its second year, requires student-athletes to miss one year of eligibility after a transfer unless families prove a "hardship."

At a Sept. 28 hearing, Mika's parents, Ron and Susan, said he spent up to 15 hours a day away from home, between the commute and out-of-school responsibilities. They also said Waterford's plans to cancel its home-visit seminary program created a hardship.

"This boy wants to play at the school where he lived for seven years," said Matthew Evans, the family's attorney. "They're defeating the point of the whole transfer rule."

UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner defended the association's rule.

"I understand their disappointment — Eric is a superior basketball player and will be attending a powerhouse basketball school," he said. "It is worthwhile to note that despite some misinformation, their complaint does not attack the association's rule but merely suggests the decision was wrong. We have successfully litigated cases like this previously and I believe the association's rule is not only legal, but that the panel's decision will be upheld," Van Wagoner said.

Evans said the purpose of the suit was not to "upend" the system, but that the Mikas' appeal was consistent with the goals of the rule.

"Their objective is to let kids live in their boundaries so they don't have these super teams," Evans said. "Eric has lived in these boundaries for seven years."

The suit marks the first legal challenge to the transfer rule, which went into effect last fall. Since then, the rule has come under attack from legislators, as well as the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank.

"The lawsuit is evidence that parents have had enough of the transfer rule," Sutherland policy analyst Matthew Piccolo said. "The rule seems to be based on an inherent mistrust of parents, almost a presumption that they're going to cheat. When a policy ignores a standard of innocent until proven guilty, I suppose it's only a matter of time until someone is going to sue them."

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