Parents claim discrimination in athlete suspension

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated after print deadline on Monday night.


MHSAA rules Shannan Thompson loses year of athletic eligibility after transferring schools

BIG RAPIDS — Two parents asked the Big Rapid Public Schools board of education on Monday to explain what they perceive as discrimination against their daughter.

After breezing through updates on board policies, an audit report and continuing the summer tax levy, the BRPS board spent the bulk of its regular meeting listening to public debate on the issue of student Shannan Thompson’s transfer to Morley Stanwood Community Schools. More than 40 people attended the meeting.

Shannan, 15, spoke first, sharing the negative effect the controversy surrounding her transfer has had on her. She enrolled at MSCS in June before her sophomore year, according to Lorie Thompson, Shannan’s mother. After completing her freshman year at Big Rapids High School, where she played basketball, Shannan decided to transfer to a smaller-school setting where she felt more comfortable socially, her mother said.

Her parents took issue with the fact that Shannan has been suspended from sports for 180 days, or one school year. They claim BRHS girls basketball coach Jessica Haist told Shannan she could keep her from playing if she transferred.

However, the decision on Shannan’s suspension was made by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Per MHSAA rules, students have to sit out of sports for at least 90 days after transferring schools.

There are 15 exceptions that allow for a 90-day suspension versus a 180-day suspension, which hinge on the reason for the transfer. The MHSAA did not recognize one of those exceptions in Shannan’s case.

“We can’t change (the MHSAA decision),” said Board President Diana Byrne. “We can’t give them what they want.”

Lorie and Trent Thompson, Shannan’s father, allege a male student in Shannan’s class who also transferred last school year under similar circumstances was granted the waiver. They want to know why.

“Our biggest complaint is you have two students, and one is punished and one is not — why?” Lorie said after the board meeting. “It’s a very difficult situation and there are a lot of victims. … The 15 year old is the one who’s being punished. She can’t play.”

Byrne disagrees that the two students’ circumstances are similar, and she was not happy that the male student was included in public discussion during the meeting.

“They brought things out that normally wouldn’t happen in public,” Byrne said. “Although another student’s name was brought up in open session, as a policy, we would never have a conversation with another parent or anyone else about another student.”

After hearing from Shannan and her parents, another 30 minutes of public comment was filled with school staff, students and community members voicing support for Jessica Haist. The board rehired her as girls basketball coach for the 2013-14 season at its October meeting.

Tom Kirinovic, a former school board member who has more than 35 years combined experience in college and high school athletics, vouched for Haist’s character as well as the MHSAA’s process in deciding how long a transfer student is suspended from sports.

“(The MHSAA) doesn’t take lightly suspending a student-athlete for any length of time,” he said. “For them to have made the decision they made, they’d have to have some very compelling reasons. … I’m here to tell you you have a great role model in your girls basketball coach.”

Theresa Beeckman, Central Michigan University assistant volleyball coach, who also coached at Ferris State University, noted the importance of following MHSAA rules.

“You can’t have your kid transfer in high school to play a sport,” she said. “That’s not OK. The rule from the MHSAA says the kid sits, and that’s the way it goes. (High school) is not an institution so your kid can go get a college scholarship. (Haist) does not deserve this.”

Lorie Thompson said her family is working to file a gender discrimination complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights. They declined to pursue an internal investigation into the matter, although BRPS offered to have Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District Assistant Superintendent Mark Klumpp handle the issue in light of the perceived conflict of interest among BRPS’ administrators.

8 comments on “Parents claim discrimination in athlete suspension

  1. avatarmr_easler

    Thanks for removing the false information about Tim Haist having “a role in working with the MHSAA on student-athlete transfers,” which was a false statement. The “waiver” that the print article refers to has nothing to do with athletics, but rather it is required when a student transfers to another school in a non-contiguous ISD. It does not apply in Shannan’s case, because she was transferring within our ISD. Now this story has gone to print, and most people who read the story will believe everything that the article says, despite its errors.

    It would only be fair that you at least print a correction to the story, clarifying that Tim Haist has no association with MHSAA in terms of student-athlete transfers, nor does he have any association in any other way. In the future it would be helpful if the Pioneer, “the newspaper” in the Big Rapids area, do its research before printing false information, especially that which would imply that there is a conflict or interest involving the school superintendent.

    I understand that you have a deadline to meet, but does that excuse you from gathering the facts before printing?

    Josh Easler
    Assistant Principal
    Big Rapids High School

  2. avatarshannan0428

    Our questions arise well before the MHSAA ever heard of the name Shannan Thompson. Our questions remain unanswered. Why in the history of BR was Shannan the only transfer that BR staff complained about being athletically motivated, when we stated from the beginning this was not the case. Was it the fact that BR staff made it 100% athletically motivated? Why do two transfer students look like carbon copy transfers but only one was complained about?? We gave facts on how similar the cases are and the only response we get is that they are different. Give us facts on how they are different to help us see how this can be anything but unfair treatment??

  3. avatarLabaroo

    If participating in athletics is such an important factor and a large part of being comfortable socially, it would have been prudent on the parent’s part to check into eligibility requirements prior to making the transfer. MHSAA has the rules in place for valid reasons, being ignorant to those rules is poor reason to cry wolf after the fact. I sympathize with the student, however, an adult was involved in the ultimate decision in allowing their daughter transfer (whatever the reason); yet another lesson learned from athletics – you live with your choices, so make them wisely and with all the facts.

  4. avatarshannan0428

    The fact is we fully expected that she would be sitting out for 90 days per the MHSAA rules, that is not the issue what we questioning. We never thought BR staff would make it out to be purely athletically driven. Our voice was never taken into consideration. My daughter being ranked 1out of 176 students academically at BRHS is an academic scholar first and athlete second. You don’t get to be first academically from sports!! Even after the threats of the coach stating she could keep Shannan out for a year Shannan still wanted to transfer because SPORTS WERE NOT her motivation for the transfer. No crying wolf just want answers to questions that the school is refusing to address!! Our choice will always be to support our daughters choices, and we can definitely live with that!

  5. avatarawalters12

    If ignorance is listening to your child, supporting your child and standing up for your child then heck I am all for ignorance. Way to go parents! She did nothing wrong and the way I see it with this situation is that it seems to be okay for adults to bully and threaten a student, but when the adults ask for an explanation of the coach and staff’s actions all of sudden its they who become the victim! This coach brought it all on upon herself. The school can’t expect to single out one specific kid and expect their parents to be okay with it. That is Discrimination!

  6. avatarmasterl

    No school in all of the conference has ever complained to the MHSAA about a student. The MHSAA is very one sided, they strongly hold the school and what they say above anything a parent says. So basically the school can take things out of context, make it look like it was athletically driven and the student sits. Schools usually have more class than this. I can’t believe how BRHS said whatever they needed in order to hurt the #1 ranked academic student. Yet the third ranked baseball player went to a top baseball school and that was not athletically driven??? SHAME ON YOU BRHS!!

  7. avatarshannan0428

    Just wanted to let you know the boy that BR never complained to the MHSAA has now officially committed to U of M for baseball!! This is the same boy in Shannan’s class but she was complained about!! The only difference with Shannan and the boy is that he transferred for athletic reasons!!

    6’3, All stater transfers from Au Gres to John Glenn sits 90 days due to character of her former school for not complaining to the MHSAA, my 5’5, 4.0 GPA girl sits 180 days cuz her previous coach said what she needed to say to keep her out, why people ask, her old coach is that intimidated by her…. Or she just has no character and should not be a coach!!

    A respectable school that does not chose to hurt kids when they want to transfer schools, schools of choice is a right. Oh wait my daughters FORMER school which is BRHS only discriminates on who they complain to the MHSAA on!!

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