California baseball player pickets CIF office to protest ineligibility

Civil disobedience is all the rage. And, as teachers in Wisconsin have shown, Americans are just as happy to stage a good, old-fashioned protest as liberty fighters in far-flung Middle Eastern states.

Now, one California high school baseball player has staged a one-man picket of the California Interscholastic Federation office because of the organization's decision to deny his hardship waiver, which would have made him eligible to play baseball this spring.

According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Orange County Register and other sources, Glendora (Calif.) High senior Nicholas Wagner picketed the CIF Southern Section office in an attempt to influence the governing body to waive its eight-semester rule, which is currently barring him from competing in a final season of high school baseball. The protest was part of a concerted legal and publicity-based battle by the Wagner family against the CIF, which has thus far refused to budge to the family's claim that the student is a victim of his own academic talent.

As it is, the Wagner family has a heck of a case, albeit unique. The senior -- currently enrolled solely in honors and advanced placement classes with a 3.94 GPA -- first started high school at Damien (Calif.) High as part of that school's Gifted and Talented Education program at age 13, but was then pulled from the school early because he struggled to socially adapt with older students.

He enrolled the following fall at Glendora for what would have been his original freshman year, but was penalized for a semester of eligibility because he competed for the Damien freshman football team for part of his first freshman year.

Attorney Chris Prussak, who is representing the family's claim against the CIF, explained the case in full to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

"Due to his advanced academic needs, he was placed in classes (at Damien) with sophomores and juniors, kids who were 15, 16 or 17 years old," Prussak explained. "He began to exhibit symptoms of asynchronous development, wherein a child's emotional and social development lags behind his academic abilities.

"Due to his disability, he withdrew from Damien in December 2006. With the full support and agreement of the Glendora Unified School District, he was permitted to start at Glendora (his home school) in 2007 as a freshman, with no high school credits transferred, at 14 years of age.

"He played football and baseball for Glendora during his freshman, sophomore and junior years. Now, Nicholas was denied eligibility to play baseball in this, his senior year, at Glendora."

According to Prussak, the CIF found Wagner guilty of "athletic motivation" for his hardship claim before even hearing his case, which led to the current ongoing litigation, not to mention the one-man picket in front of CIF sectional offices in Los Alamitos.

"It's unfair to [Wagner]," Glendora baseball coach Dan Henley told the Tribune. "When he left Damien he was 13 years old. He's not the decision-maker, he's the student-athlete. It was something he didn't know about or we didn't know would be an issue until the end of last year.

"It's a shame because he is not a kid that tried to take advantage of the system, and he is certainly not here for athletic reasons. And to top it all off, he's just a great person and a great student, really the example of what a student-athlete should be. It would be a shame if he couldn't play his senior year because of this."

Whether or not Wagner's appeal is successful is anyone's guess, but the CIF has been on a heck of a winning streak when it comes to defending its cases in California courtrooms. If that costs the defending Class 2A state champions the player they expected to be a starting second baseman or shortstop, that would seem awfully harsh to both the team and player himself.

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