Roosevelt junior LaDontaz Tolbert will plead his case before the Indiana High School Athletic Association's Review Committee in Indianapolis today. This appeal is the second phase of a sad and terrifying tale.
The IHSAA ruled Tolbert ineligible in December, saying Tolbert's transfer from Lew Wallace to Roosevelt in August violated Rule 19-4, which speaks to a transfer made primarily for athletic reasons.
His mother, Sharethia Tolbert, will be in the hearing along with Michael Jasaitis, the family's attorney.
"I hope they let my son do what he loves to do," Sharethia Tolbert said.
LaDontaz and some friends were walking home from school at Wallace on Aug. 29. A fight started and a gun was pulled on him. He did not tell his mother about it.
The next day she noticed her gun was missing. LaDontaz took it while she was cooking dinner. He wanted it for his own safety.
On Aug. 31 Sharethia, after learning about the incident, removed her son from Wallace and took him to Roosevelt.
"I was shocked," said Sharethia when she learned her son could not play basketball. "I never even knew the IHSAA rules. I just wanted to keep my son safe."
Lew Wallace recommended that the junior varsity player last season be ruled ineligible and the IHSAA agreed. The fact that Roosevelt coach Renaldo Thomas coached at Lew Wallace two years ago played into the ruling.
Thomas is expected to speak at the hearing.
The ruling also addressed the player's little sister. LaDontaz has a 15-year-old sister named Almesha Alexander. She is a special education student at Lew Wallace. IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox wrote the following in his decision.
"While I truly appreciate your desire for protecting the safety and well-being of your son by transferring him to a school you believe to be safer, it is highly incongruent to leave your 15-year-old daughter in the same school if safety is actually a consideration."
Cox also wrote, "A school administrator could easily construe this change of schools is nothing more than an effort to follow a former coach to a new school," concerning coach Thomas.
Sharethia defended her decision to keep her daughter at Wallace with a mother's passion.
"I didn't want to take her out of her comfort zone," Sharethia said. "And she was not having any safety issues. I needed to get my son away from some of the friends he was with."
Since moving to Roosevelt, Tolbert's GPA has risen from a 1.7 at Wallace to making the honor roll in the latest grading period.