WEAVERVILLE, Calif. (CN) - Attorneys settled the case of a boy who became homeless after his mother died and fled an abusive father and was denied the right to play play high school sports because he got his mother's death date wrong on his hardship application to the California Interscholastic Federation.
Brent Zachary Sanchez, who goes by "Zach," sued the Northern Section California Interscholastic Federation and the California Interscholastic Federation in Trinity County Court. He is represented by Leecia Welch with the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law.
Sanchez's attorneys told Courthouse News that the case was settled in February: that Trinity High School agreed Zach was eligible to play high school sports, and promised to work with the National Center for Youth Law to revise the CIF bylaws.
"This is about much more than Zach's situation," said NCYL Senior Attorney Leecia Welch. "We've reached an agreement that will prevent the unfair treatment of homeless students in high school athletics."
Zach moved to Weaverville in June 2014 after several years of homelessness, according to the Feb. 2 complaint. His mother died of cancer when he was 12 and he was sent to Redding to live with his father, with whom he had never lived.
"His father was physically and emotionally abusive to Zach, and years of instability and eventually homelessness ensued," the complaint states. "From seventh grade on, Zach intermittently lived with is father, his father's friend, his mother's friend, his sisters, and several other acquaintances. Zach's father made it clear to Zach that he was not equipped to raise him and Zach felt he no longer had a home with his father by the time he was a sophomore in high school."
The erratic living arrangements took a toll on Zach's grades. But after leaving Redding to stay with a friend in Weaverville, and eventually moving in with a family there, he began to get himself back on track academically.
He had played sports in Redding, and he attended a basketball camp after enrolling at Trinity High School in Weaverville. At the camp he was noticed by college scouts who felt he might be a candidate for a sports scholarship, the complaint states.
With help from Trinity High School's athletic director and principal, he filled out paperwork, including a hardship waiver, to play in the school's league.
He needed approval from the local league and the Northern Section California Interscholastic Federation, both of which initially approved the application. But the Northern Section's Commissioner requested more documentation to prove Zach's homelessness, including the date of his mother's death.
"Because his mother's death was an extremely traumatic event for Zach and was followed by years of upheaval, he had difficulty remembering the exact year," according to the complaint.
He was two years off. So the school district superintendent, who is a member of the Northern Section's executive committee, rescinded Zach's application, the Northern Section refused to accept a corrected application and made him start all over again with a new application, according to the complaint.
He did so, and was still waiting for a reply when the lawsuit was filed.
"This unjust and heartbreaking situation has already gone on far too long, causing Zach to miss all but six games of the basketball season to date," the complaint states. He is on track academically to graduate this spring, and will soon have missed his chance to play.
His attorneys said the defendants were violating federal and state laws to protect homeless youth.
A New Mexico boy in the same situation sued the New Mexican interscholastic federation two weeks ago for similar reasons.
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