Officiating organization concerned about precedent the St. Thomas More ruling sets

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- People in the sports officiating community are concerned that Wednesday's decision by a Milwaukee County judge to allow the St. Thomas More basketball team to continue to compete in the WIAA tournament sets a precedent that may lead to more lawsuits in high school sports going forward.

The entire St. Thomas More team was penalized after a fight broke out late in a game last Friday. The WIAA ruled that all the players were ineligible to play in the next game, a playoff game, and that the team would have to forfeit, ending St. Thomas More's season.

The school filed for a temporary restraining order as a last ditch effort to keep its season alive. On Wednesday, that temporary restraining order was granted with Judge Hannah Dugan ruling that the St. Thomas More game against Brown Deer must take place, and all players are eligible.

"I don't think it's behind us because I believe it's a temporary restraining order," said St. Thomas More President and Boys Basketball Head Coach John Hoch. "I don't know if that's one week, or a couple days or a month; I don't know what that really means."

Hoch says all his team can do now is focus on is playing basketball.

The WIAA issued this statement saying, "As difficult as this situation is for everyone with inherent interest in the outcome, the WIAA has the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the rules of education-based athletics as established by the members schools."

Barry Mano is the founder of the National Association of Sports Officials. He says that the judge's decision to let STM continue in the tournament is disrespectful to the referees who make decisions in real-time, adding that he fears it will lead to more lawsuits in high school sports.

"It's opening a bad door. Nothing really good is going to come of this," Mano said. "I have it on good authority that a couple schools in Wisconsin are planning to get attorneys because of ineligible player rulings; here we go. You're going to start litigating that stuff."

Mano says that despite the ruling, referees will still show up and officiate games to the best of their abilities, the way that they were trained to do.

"It's not going to affect in any way the decision making process that we use during a contest. We're going to go out there and we're going to enforce the rules fairly and impartially and make sure the game remains safe and is played by the rules," Mano said. "If there's a judge looking over our shoulders, well, there it is. It's not going to change what we do or how we approach any game."

Hoch says that while his team is sorry about what happened, he hopes people will see the unique situation that lead to the lawsuit being filed.

"That video is very ugly and a sad video," Hoch said. "I just hope that they understand that we have great respect for the officials, we just think that all of our players were painted with a broad stroke. I just ask them to watch the video and just tell us what we should have done differently."

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