MacArthur Point Guard Is Suing Irving ISD for Her Right to Play Varsity Basketball

The Texas UIL's system of determining high school athletic eligibility has meted out another dose of its strange justice. Gabrielle Gregory, a junior point guard at Irving MacArthur and a four-star recruit who's made a verbal commitment to Kansas State, has been sidelined for the first weeks of the season while awaiting a decision from the local district executive committee on whether she lives where she says she lives.

Gregory enrolled at MacArthur in January after spending two years at Triple A Academy, a Dallas charter with an uncommon concentration of basketball talent. According to her previous athletic participation form, Gregory and her mother, Tamika George, had recently moved from a small house in Dallas near Love Field into her aunt's apartment in Irving.

To be eligible to play basketball, Gregory and her mom had to prove that they had, in fact, moved to the Irving apartment as they claimed on their enrollment documents and that they hadn't done so for "athletic purposes." The first they accomplished by signing an affidavit swearing they lived with the aunt and then, when their residence in the apartment was called into question, causing Gregory to be pulled from school one month into the spring semester, by having mom's name added to the sister's lease. Proving the second, inasmuch as human motivation is complex and difficult to divine from outside a person's brain, is basically impossible.

See also: Kimball Basketball Loses Two Starters to Dallas ISD's Recruiting Crackdown

Nevertheless, to preserve the purity of interscholastic competition and because it's clear that kids change schools all the time for sports, these athletes are required to prove exactly that. In the most contentious cases -- like Gregory's and like that of two Kimball stars declared ineligible two weeks ago -- this involves disgorging intimate details of one's life and financial situation before a district executive committee, a panel of coaches who in such cases are thrust into the uncomfortable role of prosecutor, jury and forensic psychologist.

Gregory's background is typical of kids who, athletes or no, often float between schools in Dallas and its inner-ring suburbs. Gregory was born, according to documents included with a lawsuit her mother filed against Irving ISD this week, when George, her mom, was 17. George never married the father but wed another man in 2004, when Gabrielle was 6. They separated in 2012, and George found herself once again on her own as a single mother. They made it a year or so at the house near Love Field before George says financial circumstances forced her to move in with her sister. She works two jobs.

Irving ISD officials' suspicions about the legitimacy of Gregory's move, after being put to rest by the addition of mom's name to the aunt's lease in February, were apparently reawakened in October, when, according to the lawsuit, athletic director Clint Roddy redoubled his efforts to be sure that Gregory lived in the aunt's apartment. According to the suit, he sent an attendance officer to the apartment mid-day on a Tuesday. Gregory's uncle, fresh out of the shower, answered the door and asked if he could come back. When he returned at 7:30 that evening, George had already left for her second job, though the attendance officer was allowed inside to look at Gregory's bedroom.

This was enough, the lawsuit says, to suggest to Roddy that Gregory wasn't living in the apartment. He and other Irving ISD officials called George and Gregory in for a meeting on November 3. They brought a sheaf of documents -- George's driver's license, bank statements, a voided check, Gregory's college recruiting letters -- to back up their claim but to no avail. Gregory was deemed ineligible to play varsity basketball unless and until the district executive committee, scheduled to meet later this month, decides otherwise. And so Gregory has been forced to spend the first month of her junior season on the sidelines.

Some version of this story plays out multiple times every season. A talented basketball player with a hard-luck back story switches schools for vaguely suspect reasons. Coaches and administrators squint at the player, take a close look at her file, try to detect a lie. They usually can't, at least not without plenty of reasonable doubt, but they make their decision anyway on whether the kid should be allowed to play.

The big difference in Gregory's case is the lawsuit. Typically, these decisions reach no further than whatever drab room the DECs meet in or, if the families appeal, to the UIL executive committee in Austin. Here, though, the family is challenging in court the constitutionality of the district's eligibility decision, arguing that's it's a violation of George and Gregory's due process rights.

The suit is to a large degree about Irving ISD's alleged circumvention of established UIL policies in declaring Gregory ineligible without a DEC hearing or other appeal, but it's also about the system itself. Even if the UIL procedures had been followed, a ruling that Gregory was ineligible would "adversely and impermissibly impact [George]'s ability to make decisions about child rearing, education, and family relationships without government intrusion." A tough sell, perhaps, given the complicated relationship between the Constitution and public schools, but man the existing system of adjudicating eligibility sure sucks.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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