MSHAA on Griffin eligibility: "It's not just a residency thing"

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The dispute over the eligibility of transfer guard Tiaria Griffin continues to thicken between the Mississippi High School Activities Association and Hattiesburg High School.

In an over-the-phone interview with WDAM, Mississippi High School Activities Executive Director Don Hinton and his attorney Jarrad Garner shared that, in fact, Griffin and Hattiesburg High School may not be under the protection of a Federal injunction, as Hattiesburg Athletics Director Cheyenne Trussell believes.

According to Garner, when Griffin's mother first brought her daughter's case to the chancery, or state, court, what they issued was a temporary restraining order, and not an injunction. "There were some constitutional violations alleged in the complaint," explained Garner, "So we moved the case from state court to Federal court...(Cheyenne Trussell) is mistakenly referring to this TRO as an injunction"

Garner explains that, unless the court says otherwise, a TRO expires ten days. If that is the case, Griffin's TRO expired on Oct. 10. "The TRO that was entered by the state court states very, very clearly, 'it is ordered that this order expires 10 days from this date unless extended by this court,'" said Garner.

"Since that point in time, there has been no further action taken on the TRO...It's null and void. It's as if it never was entered," he continued. "The soul basis that they are playing Tiaria right now is they think this TRO is somehow still valid."

Whether an injunction or TRO, the question still remains of whether or not Griffin was eligible or ineligible in the first place. The MSHAA sent a two-page report to Trussell on Nov. 4, stating that the MSHAA's ruling of ineligible stems not only from residency, but over a good standing issue and possible AAU infractions.

The report reveals that over the summer, Griffin played AAU basketball under Coach Burnell Wesco, who heads up the South Mississippi Elite Travel Basketball Team. Burnell is also currently a coach with the Hattiesburg High ninth grade girls basketball team, and Garner explained that the MSHAA states "if you play for a coach in the non-sports season, that coaches another high school…you cannot transfer to the high school for which that coach coaches without having sat out a year."

Additionally, the report revealed Tiaria was still training with her previous high school team, Lawrence County, and did not reveal to anyone that she would be leaving for Hattiesburg. Combined with the residency issue, Garner argues that Tiaria and her mother's move was not for personal, or employment reasons, but for athletic reasons.

"When you look at all the facts combined. You have to understand that the mother's position is that her job ended in Lawrence County and she moved and began working with the Hattiesburg School District," Garner explained, "but when you combine that with the AAU issue, you combine that with if you look at coach Wesco's website, it's chocked full of Tiaria Griffin and has been for some time. You combine all those factors, it wreaks of the move absolutely not being for moving only for a job."

If it is ruled Tiaria moved for athletic reasons, they must reside in the school's district for at least 60 days. The MSHAA believes, based on a utility bill acquired from Griffin's mother, they were not residents in that time period.

On Wednesday, Trussell brought up the question of why Tiaria was in good standing for an all-star game she played in in July, but not in good standing in August. According to Garner, the issue of Griffin's eligibility had not been brought to the attention of the association at that time. If the issue was brought to the association before that all-star game, Garner said, she would have not been in good standing.

Trussell also questioned why Tiaria's brother was cleared as an eligible athlete while she was not.

Garner responded saying, "He was simply a victim of circumstance," who moved because his mother and his sister moved.

The Hattiesburg High girls basketball team is currently on probation by the MSHAA, and should Griffin play in Friday's game against Moss Point, the team will be suspended for the remainder of the regular season. In a letter sent to Trussell, Hinton explained that the association would inform Hattiesburg opponents that their games would be canceled, and no game officials would be present.

"We have followed succinctly the letter of our policy starting with the first time she played," asserts Hinton.

"The ruling was ineligible, and regardless of what the opinions were about the ruling of the executive board, the MSHAA deemed the young lady to be ineligible...We would hope that they do not play her. We think about the other young ladies as well."

Hinton also shares that on numerous cases, the association offered to have a conference call with Hattiesburg High School and the judge presiding over the case, in order to explain the situation regarding the TRO. Garner said the "offer has been refused on every occasion."

Regardless of how Tiaria's eligibility turns out, her standing with the University of Georgia, who she committed to on Wednesday, will not be affected. Griffin is expected to play in the tigers Friday home game against Moss Point.

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