December 19, 2007 in Sports

Casto ruled eligible to play

By The Spokesman-Review

It was a stressful struggle, but DeAngelo Casto’s fight for eligibility proved a success Tuesday when the WIAA approved his appeal.

The decision came down just hours before the Ferris boys basketball game at East Valley. Though he had been practicing with the team all season, Casto finally took the court wearing scarlet and white.

“It felt good just being with the whole team and everyone that I played with last year, and the new guys,” Casto said after the Saxons’ 89-34 win over the Knights. “It was good to suit up.”

When he subbed in with 2:13 left in the first quarter, the Ferris fans applauded and a few yelled out his name. But Casto just looked relieved to be back. The 6-foot-8 senior played 11:48 off the bench, tallying five points and four rebounds.

To get back to the hardwood, it took more than a month of work.

After moving this summer to Seattle to live with his mother, Casto came back to Spokane and re-enrolled at Ferris on Oct. 30.

Local officials declared him ineligible to compete on the Ferris basketball team because of the transfer.

Casto fought back.

At a Nov. 20 hearing, District 8 WIAA officials again said he could not play. With the help of his attorney, Ray Clary, Casto appealed to the WIAA’s top level, at which about 20 percent of appeals are approved. That hearing was Monday in Spokane.

It didn’t take long for Mike Colbrese, the WIAA’s executive director, to make a decision. On Tuesday, he cleared Casto for competition based on his recent hardship.

“The most I can say is that he demonstrated a hardship that was unique to him,” Colbrese said.

On Monday, a WIAA hearing officer listened to Casto and Clary’s argument for eligibility, then reported to Colbrese. Clary structured the case around Casto’s status as a federally recognized homeless student known in education circles as a McKinney-Vento student, said Clary.

The federal statute which states homeless students must be provided all opportunities a school offers, including athletics, should trump state decisions, Clary said, and automatically give Casto eligibility.

Nevertheless, Colbrese didn’t even consider the McKinney-Vento argument. In his eyes, Casto’s hardship was enough to approve the appeal, Colbrese said.

“We felt that there was enough of a unique situation here,” he said, “and we’re not totally clear that McKinney-Vento (guarantees) eligibility.”

Clary’s just glad he helped Casto win his way back onto the Ferris basketball team.

“I’m happy for him,” Clary said. “Kids who are at risk need to have every opportunity for themselves. I just see De going on and doing good things.”

For Clary, who took the case pro bono, it wasn’t about basketball. It was about the ability for Casto to reconnect with Spokane, he said.

“As a community, shouldn’t our focus be on giving kids every chance to be able to develop themselves?” Clary asked.

A basketball team’s structure, and the coaches who serve as positive role models, will help Casto “grow into a contributing member of the community,” Clary said.

Ferris coach Don Van Lierop avoided comment after Tuesday’s basketball game. He did not return a voice message left later at his home.

Casto said he had great support while fighting for eligibility from his father to the assistant coach with whom he’s now living. Though the process was “really stressful,” the people who cared helped him out, he said.

“I’m grateful for that,” Casto said, “and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to play again.”

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