INDIANAPOLIS | In a case stretching back 23 years, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a former Andrean High School basketball player, whose eligibility to play repeatedly was blocked by the Indiana High School Athletic Association, can recoup his attorney fees from the association.
During the 1990-91 school year, Shane Schafer withdrew from his junior year of classes at the Merrillville high school due to a severe, chronic sinus infection that required several surgeries to correct. He repeated his junior year in 1991-92.
Schafer sought IHSAA permission to play his junior year of basketball during the 1991-92 season and was denied, even though the IHSAA admitted Schafer's medical condition caused his academic difficulties, according to court records.
A Lake County judge issued a restraining order permitting Schafer to play in 1991, but the IHSAA commissioner again barred Schafer citing a different eligibility rule.
The case was moved to Jasper County at the IHSAA's request. Special Judge Raymond Kickbush determined the IHSAA's eligibility rules were "arbitrary and capricious" as applied to Schafer and said Schafer could play.
The Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling in 1992, though while the final outcome was still pending the IHSAA denied Schafer's eligibility for the 1992-93 basketball season.
Judge Kickbush again overruled the IHSAA, and Schafer was allowed to play.
A decision on Schafer's request that the IHSAA pay his attorney fees was delayed until 2003 when he was awarded $86,231. Following a 2009 appeal, the attorney fee award was reissued.
In a 3-0 ruling, the Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the decision to award Schafer attorney fees.
Former Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, writing for the appeals court, said the IHSAA's seven failed attempts to deny Schafer's eligibility met the "unreasonable" litigation standard required for a judge to award attorney fees.
Shepard said the three-judge appeals panel agreed with the lower court judges who said the IHSAA was improperly using this case to send a warning to parents of student-athletes not to challenge IHSAA eligibility decisions.
Schafer, who now is a Porter County probation officer, was represented by his uncle, Timothy Schafer, head of the Merrillville law firm Schafer and Schafer.
Timothy Schafer said the lawsuit wasn't about the fees — which top $100,000 when interest is included — but about sending a message to the IHSAA not to make unreasonable and arbitrary eligibility decisions.
"I don't think they realize the significance of it," he said. "We saw how devastated Shane was when he was denied the opportunity."
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said the appeals court ruling was "disappointing." He said the association has not yet decided whether to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to review it.