GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Four high school athletes will get to wrestle in the state finals this week after four different judges ruled they would suffer irreparable harm from having to quarantine instead of competing.
All four rulings were made within the last week when the student-athletes challenged county health department orders requiring them to undergo a 14-day quarantine after being identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case.
County health officials fought back but were ultimately overruled by the court. Judges in Eaton, Barry, Ionia and Allegan counties granted favorable rulings to the students, despite county health officials arguing in defense of the state’s quarantine protocols.
All four athletes were represented by Grand Rapids-based attorney Jimmy Thomas.
“These kids deserve to have a voice and its heartbreaking to see their legacy taken away from them,” Thomas told News 8. “Somebody has to fight for them, somebody has to be their voice out there.”
Portland High School senior Chandler Murton presented his case before Ionia County Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth-Kreeger Thursday morning.
Thomas explained to the court that his client was ordered to sit out of this weekend’s state championship after his opponent from last Saturday’s regional match tested positive for COVID-19 a few days later.
The same thing happened to Thomas’ other client, Hopkins High School senior Ashtyn Bennett.
In both cases, Thomas requested a temporary restraining order from the court, which would allow the students to compete instead of quarantine.
During the hearing Thursday morning, Thomas argued not competing would cause Murton irreparable harm as it is his senior year, there’s no second chance at this match and forcing students to sit out could potentially impact their mental and emotional health.
Thomas also disputed the health department’s protocols that conduct contact tracing retroactively, saying both his client and his opponent tested negative before competing in Saturday’s match.
In each of the cases, county health officials were on defense.
“We strongly oppose request for temporary restraining order,” attorney for Ionia County Gordon Love said. “No one takes any pleasure in delivering this news … (but) we’re following the best science.”
Hoseth-Kreeger ruled in Murton’s favor, granting temporary relief for the wrestler, which will allow him to partake in the finals.
“I find that there is a lot of speculation as to when the opponent that Mr. Murton was wrestling actually contracted COVID-19,” Hoseth-Kreeger said.
Hoseth-Kreeger signed off on the order, while adding additional provisions requiring Murton to self-report any symptoms and continue to be tested up to and throughout the tournament.
Ionia County Health Officer Ken Bowen told News 8 he had no further comment when asked for the department’s response to the judge’s ruling.
While two other local judges made similar rulings for wrestlers in Eaton and Barry counites, a judge in Allegan County initially ruled against high school senior Ashtyn Bennett. The judge later reversed that decision after Thomas filed a motion to reconsider.
Communications Director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Geoff Kimmerly said this is the first time students have taken this type of legal action. He said MHSAA is not in any place to intervene.
“Our position is we have to follow what we’re told to do,” Kimmerly said. “It’s the law. So either way, we follow MDHHS, then if the court says we have to do something differently, then we follow the court.”
Kimmerly said it’s important to note that all wrestlers will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before competing in the state finals this weekend.