Michigan State-bound power forward Thomas Kithier has been ruled ineligible by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for 180 days, effectively ruling him out his entire senior season at Clarkston.
Kithier transferred to Clarkston for his senior season after playing his first three years at Macomb Dakota, which refused to sign off on the transfer, putting in motion a 90-day ineligible period that would've kept him out past Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dakota then made the claim his move was athletically motivated and, thus, not legal. MHSAA executive director John E. "Jack" Roberts agreed with Dakota in a decision that was handed down in October, which set in motion the 180-day ineligibility period. Clarkston then appealed to a five-person MHSAA executive committee, which met last week and announced its ruling Thursday. A majority vote by the executive committee is binding; vote totals aren't made public.
Kithier and Clarkston now have exhausted all appeal options through the MHSAA, and he is ineligible to play at any school in Michigan, according to John Johnson, spokesman for the association.
Kithier's family released a statement Thursday, saying Thomas is "heartbroken" by the ruling. The family moved into the school district.
“Our move to Clarkston was a private family decision and one that we did not take lightly," the family said in a statement. "We watched as our son’s school environment grew increasingly intolerable for him over two years, and we knew that staying at Macomb Dakota High School was not in his best interest. We researched several Michigan schools, and found Clarkston’s outstanding culture and academic curriculum to be a great fit for Thomas’ needs and future goals.
"Thomas is thriving socially and academically at Clarkston High School, but as a lifelong student-athlete, he is heartbroken to be denied the opportunity to participate in sports.
"We followed the rules, and our one and only motivation for transferring to Clarkston was to surround our son with a supportive community that sees him as a multifaceted human being, and not a commodity.”
The MHSAA handbook has seven clauses that define an "athletically motivated" transfer, and Johnson said No. 7 specifically applied to Kithier's case. That clause reads: "The student seeks to participate with teammates or coaches with whom he/she participated in non-school competition during the preceding 12 months."
Kithier and Clarkston's Foster Loyer play summer ball together, and both are heading to Michigan State to play for Tom Izzo.
The burden of proof in transfer disputes is on the former school, and Johnson said there was sufficient proof to make the ruling the MHSAA did, because Kithier, in multiple media reports, had expressed an interest in playing with Loyer.
"There were enough instances in the media reporting the desire to play together," said Johnson, adding the MHSAA gets about two or three transfer disputes a year, and that "several have proven to be true in the end."
Macomb Dakota coach Paul Tocco didn't immediately respond to request for comment. A message was left for Izzo, and was not immediately returned Thursday night.
It's unclear what Kithier's next step will be, though his best option would appear to be spending a year playing at a prep school before heading to Michigan State.
The ruling was met with a ferocious and passionate response from Clarkston brass, from the superintendent on down.
“As superintendent, I will not tolerate injustice, prejudice, or arbitrarily limiting students,” said Dr. Rod Rock, superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools, in a statement. “We will not impose adult decision that hamper long-term achievements upon them.
"We will stand up for every student, in every case. Just as we expect our Wolves to fight until the final whistle on the playing field, in the arena, in the classroom, and when battling life’s obstacles, we will fight for Thomas Kithier – he’s our kid.”
Said Clarkston coach Dan Fife: “During my coaching career, there have been times where families moved to Clarkston and their sons played on my teams. My only concern when that occurs is that the families follow the rules set by the MHSAA. That is what occurred in this case, and yet, I find myself in the position (for the first time in 35 years) of having to defend the integrity of my player, the Clarkston basketball program, and myself as a coach. The MHSAA does not have a handle on transfers, and they’re making an example of Thomas.”
There was a similar marquee transfer last year, one that aided Macomb Dakota, when 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward Jack Ballantyne transferred from Warren De La Salle. De La Salle, though, signed off on the transfer, and Ballantyne got to play the season alongside Jermaine Jackson Jr. before they both headed to Detroit Mercy to play basketball this fall. Jackson previously transferred to Dakota from Mt. Clemens.
Clarkston still plans to take up the case with the MHSAA's representative council, but it doesn't meet until the spring, too late to salvage Kithier's season at Clarkston.
Clarkston eliminated Kithier and Dakota from the state playoffs two of the last three years, including a 20-point victory in last year's regional semifinal on its way to winning the Class A state championship.
The Detroit News this week ranked Loyer the No. 1 player in the state, while Kithier checked in at No. 8.
Clarkston, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, opened the season Tuesday night with a 65-55 victory at No. 10 Wayne Memorial, and was to host Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Thursday night.
Tony Paul contributed to this report.