Joe Ireland gets his day on the field tonight.
He gets his day in court on Oct. 14.
The senior running back at Lewis and Clark High School should play in tonight’s GSL opener against the Ferris Saxons.
A senior transfer from Gonzaga Prep, Ireland has had to battle through red tape to even win the right to put on pads and compete.
The chance to play came from efforts by attorneys Barry Ryan and Bill Etter. They’ve won a Spokane Superior Court injunction that overturned a ruling last winter that would have made Ireland ineligible to play until November.
Both attorneys took on the case pro bono after deciding Ireland had been penalized unfairly by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. That group makes rulings and sets eligibility standards for athletes at more than 350 state high schools.
On Oct. 14, Etter and Ryan will appear in court again, hoping to convince a jury that the WIAA wrongly decided last winter that Ireland didn’t deserve a chance to play football this fall.
Ireland attended G-Prep his first two years. He played last year for the Bullpups, starting on offense and playing defensive lineman.
Last November, he told his parents he wanted to leave. He enrolled at LC.
WIAA rules say an athlete transferring to another school in the same district loses a year of eligibility unless financial hardship on the part of the family is proved.
Ireland’s parents made that claim and went before a review board last November to argue their case.
The board - made up of local athletic directors and school officials - denied his request for a waiver. That meant he couldn’t compete in any varsity sport at LC until Nov. 6, 1996.
Ireland appealed, but WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese denied the appeal.
Ireland filed suit in Superior Court. The suit says his rights were violated and the court can force the WIAA to give him another hearing on the waiver request.
In fact, the court trial, with jury, becomes the final hearing on whether he can play.
Court documents filed by Ryan and Etter also suggest that the WIAA review was biased and unfair. Ryan said that Al Faulkner, G-Prep’s principal, was chairman of the review committee that acted on Ireland’s appeal.
Though Faulkner didn’t vote, Ryan said WIAA policies require he not attend the meeting at all.
“He certainly had no right to be there in the hearing,” Ryan insisted.
Faulkner did not respond to phone calls from the newspaper.
Pat Ireland, Joe’s father, suggests local politics played a part in the refusal.
“What gets me is how often other athletes get to move and keep eligibility,” said the senior Ireland.
He said he’s been told the WIAA grants 70 percent of the student waiver requests it gets.
He also insisted that he and his wife have legitimate financial hardship. He has two daughters attending the University of Idaho, and he’d seen his yearly payments to G-Prep increase twice since his son enrolled there.
John Olson, the WIAA’s lawyer, denied there was any bias against the Irelands.
“These people did a good job and acted responsibly and made the right decision,” Olson said.
Olson argued in court Thursday that the WIAA needed to get the matter resolved before the football season ends.
“If we let this go (until trial in 1997), it’s a moot point. We need to have this resolved as soon as possible,” Olson told Superior Court Judge Richard Schroeder.
Olson argued that the WIAA has to apply its rules fairly to all students. And if this case continues without a quick outcome, it sets a precedent that can undermine the WIAA’s ability to enforce its rules.
Schroeder agreed, but said it will be difficult to get the trial set quickly in the crowded Spokane Superior Court docket. He set a trial date of Oct. 14, but warned Olson, “I’m not sure we’ll even have a courtroom available.”
If the WIAA can convince a jury that the Irelands didn’t prove financial hardship, their son would be ineligible until Nov. 6 - a loss of three games. Lewis and Clark ends its regular season against Gonzaga Prep the next night.
Pat Ireland doesn’t argue that Joe needs to play this season to prove anything to college scouts. “He may go on to college, but that’s not the point.
“The point is this is his final year. He’ll never have the chance to play as a senior again,” he said.