Former Dakota basketball player sues MHSAA, Chippewa Valley Schools

By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published January 8, 2018

 Thomas Kithier, pictured here shooting the ball last season while playing for Dakota High School, has filed a lawsuit against the MHSAA and Chippewa Valley Schools after he was ruled ineligible to play basketball this season after transferring to Clarkston High School.

Thomas Kithier, pictured here shooting the ball last season while playing for Dakota High School, has filed a lawsuit against the MHSAA and Chippewa Valley Schools after he was ruled ineligible to play basketball this season after transferring to Clarkston High School.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

DETROIT — Former Dakota High School basketball player Thomas Kithier is suing the Michigan High School Athletic Association and Chippewa Valley Schools after he was ruled ineligible to play for Clarkston High School for his senior season.

Kithier, who is committed to play basketball at Michigan State University, transferred to Clarkston this summer and the lawsuit states his parents made the move to “escape the negative and inadequate academic and social environment at Dakota.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, or MHSAA, ruled Kithier, 18, ineligible to play at Clarkston this season after Dakota claimed he made the move for athletic reasons. A 180-day ineligibility period was handed down as part of the ruling.

Others named in the lawsuit include Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts, Dakota Principal Paul Sibley, Dakota Athletic Director Michael Fusco, MHSAA Associate Director Thomas Rashid and MHSAA Executive Director John Roberts.

Kithier’s attorney, Steven Fishman, said they are looking for Kithier to be eligible to play on Jan. 15, which is standard for transfer students.

Fishman said the motion for preliminary injunction was granted and will be heard Jan. 11 in front of Judge Marianne Battani at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit.

“The motion for a preliminary injunction will include two affidavits that will shed a lot of light on the MHSAA’s failure to properly investigate Dakota’s false claims,” Fishman said. “All we want is for Thomas Kithier to be declared eligible for basketball on Jan. 15.”

In the lawsuit, it says Kithier’s parents made the decision to move him to Clarkston during the 2015-16 season for a number of academic reasons, including there not being courses for media production, which Kithier is interested in studying in college, as well as academics not being a priority in the athletic department.

The family made the move in August 2017, at which point Dakota basketball coach Paul Tocco sent inappropriate texts to Kithier regarding his decision to leave Dakota, the lawsuit alleges.

About a week later, the lawsuit states Kithier’s mother spoke with Fusco, who said Dakota would not sign the transfer form. In September, Dakota filed a complaint about Kithier’s move being athletically motivated.

In the complaint, Dakota alleged that Clarkston basketball coach Dan Fife, Michigan State assistant basketball coach Dane Fife and others influenced Kithier’s transfer, including MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo. Kithier denies any contact with the coaches about transferring.

“Once all of our materials are reviewed, it will be obvious that there is no evidence, whatsoever, to support the notion that Thomas Kithier’s transfer was athletically motivated,” Fishman said. “The MHSAA has treated Thomas differently from all other transfers and Thomas should be allowed to play basketball for Clarkston on Jan. 15, when the second semester of the school year begins.”

In the lawsuit, Kithier alleges the defendants violated his right to due process, as well as conspiring to not allow Kithier to play at Clarkston. According to the lawsuit, Rashid had a pre-existing relationship with Fusco and encouraged Dakota to not sign the transfer form.

Chippewa Valley Schools had issued a statement following the ruling by MHSAA, but Roberts issued a new statement Jan. 5.

“Like most schools, Chippewa Valley Schools is a member of the Michigan High School Athletic Association and as such we abide by the rules and policies of this organization,” Roberts said in the statement. “In this situation we followed the rules set forth by the MHSAA just as all member schools are required to do. At Chippewa Valley Schools, our number one priority is making sure our kids receive a world-class education and we will not be distracted from our core mission of preparing students for college or a career.”

Geoff Kimmerly, media and content coordinator with MHSAA, said because of the lawsuit, the MHSAA would keep comments at a minimum, but emailed a statement.

“In the administration of school sports, we’re always going to have situations where a rule is in the spotlight and where those involved may not like the outcome, especially when the rule hits home,” the statement said. “But all of our member schools expect the MHSAA to enforce the rules agreed to when they join every year, so as to maintain competitive equity.”