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Monts v. Illinois High School Association

April 30, 2003

ISAAC MONTS, BY HIS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, ROBERT MONTS AND JUDY MONTS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ILLINOIS HIGH SCHOOL ASSOCIATION AND PONTIAC TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 02MR185 Honorable Elizabeth A. Robb, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiffs, Isaac Monts, by his parents and natural guardians, Robert and Judy Monts, appeal the order of the trial court granting defendant's, Illinois High School Association's (IHSA), motion for summary judgment. The trial court found that IHSA's rules and bylaws were not vague or ambiguous and that IHSA exercised its power consistent with those rules and bylaws. Therefore, the trial court held that no material facts remained in dispute and, as a matter of law, IHSA's decision that a recruiting violation had occurred was upheld. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

Isaac Monts was a renowned quarterback, having set various school and state records while playing football at Streator Woodland High School (Streator). Sometime during the 2001-02 school year, the Montses learned that Coach Aubrey, the football coach at Streator, was resigning and would not be coaching during the 2002-03 school year, Isaac's senior year. Coach Aubrey asked the Montses if they would like for him to approach Coach Peterson, the football coach at Pontiac High School (Pontiac), about the possibility of Isaac playing football at Pontiac during his senior year. The Montses gave Coach Aubrey permission to contact Coach Peterson. Coach Peterson told Coach Aubrey to have the Montses contact him. Robert Monts contacted Coach Peterson, and the two scheduled a dinner meeting to discuss the possibility of Isaac's transfer to Pontiac. The meeting was held at a local restaurant on March 26, 2002. During the meeting, Coach Peterson played a videotape entitled "The Perfect Fan" for the family. Coach Peterson selected that particular tape in response to Judy Monts's concern that her son would be "just a number" at a larger school like Pontiac. The Montses did not make the decision to transfer to Pontiac until after the meeting with Coach Peterson. During the summer of 2002, Isaac attended Pontiac's football and basketball summer camps.

IHSA received a complaint from Streator that Pontiac recruited Isaac to play football. IHSA conducted an investigation into the allegation. IHSA's executive director found that Coach Peterson wrongfully recruited Isaac using "undue influence" in violation of IHSA's bylaws 3.071 and 3.073, which state in relevant part as follows:

"3.071 Recruitment of students or attempted recruitment of students for athletic purposes is prohibited, regardless of their residence.

3.073 It shall also be a violation of this rule to induce or attempt to induce or encourage any prospective student to attend any member school for the purpose of participating in athletics even when special remuneration or inducement is not given.

No member school and no one acting on behalf of any member school shall give any speech or give any slide, film[,] or tape presentation or distribute any written material which states or implies that a member school's athletic program is better than the athletic program of any other member school or that it would be more advantageous for any prospective student-athlete to participate in athletics at that member school as opposed to any other school."

Due to the violations found, IHSA ruled Coach Peterson ineligible to coach at any IHSA member school for a period of one year beginning August 28, 2002, and Isaac permanently ineligible to participate in interscholastic activities at Pontiac. The punishment imposed was pursuant to IHSA bylaw 6.010, which states in relevant part:

"Persons found guilty of exercising undue influence to secure or retain the attendance of a student at a member school shall be ineligible to coach at an IHSA member school for one year. Sanctions shall also be imposed against the school represented by such persons.

Students whose high school attendance is found to have been affected by undue influence to secure or retain the student at a member school shall be permanently ineligible at that school."

IHSA's bylaws define "undue influence" as "any influence exerted by school personnel upon a prospective student or a prospective student's family related to athletic participation, potential, or accomplishment." The Montses appealed the executive director's decision to the board of directors (Board), before whom a hearing was held on September 9, 2002. The Montses requested that the hearing be reported by a certified court reporter; however, the Board denied their request. Due to the Board's arbitrary denial of the Montses' request, we are without the privilege of reviewing the testimony presented at the hear-ing. We now have to rely upon the notes of the executive secretary, the pleadings, and affidavits filed by both parties as they appear in the record.

IHSA's Board affirmed the executive director's decision. The Montses requested that the Board reconsider its ruling. The Board did so, allowing the Montses' attorney to argue before it, and again affirmed the executive director's decision. The Montses then filed a three-count complaint in the McLean County circuit court. Count I sought specific performance of the contract to permit Isaac to participate in athletics at Pontiac. Count II sought a declaratory judgment as to the arbitrariness of the relevant IHSA bylaws and definition of "undue influence." Count III alleged that the Montses were denied due process of law as required by article I, section 2, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §2) in that Isaac had a property and liberty interest in participating in athletics and IHSA arbitrarily and capriciously deprived him of those interests.

IHSA and the Montses filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted IHSA's motion, finding that IHSA was a voluntary, private association and, as such, it would not substitute its interpretation of the rules or its view of what was fair and reasonable. The court found no evidence of fraud or collusion and reviewed IHSA's conduct only to determine whether it was arbitrary and capricious. The court found that it was not. It also found that IHSA's definition of undue influence was neither vague nor ambiguous. It found Isaac had no constitutional right to participate in sports, and he was not a third-party beneficiary to the contract between IHSA and Pontiac. The court found that Isaac's punishment, although harsh, was imposed pursuant to IHSA's rules. The court granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of IHSA. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

The Montses claim that IHSA should not have declared Isaac ineligible because (1) doing so was a breach of contract, (2) IHSA's definition of "undue influence" was vague and ambiguous, and (3) ineligibility as a punishment was excessive, unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. We address each of the Montses' claims in turn.

This is an appeal from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of IHSA. The standard of review for the entry of summary judgment is de novo. General Casualty Insurance Co. v. ...


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