Jay Johnston

Jay Johnston of Helena High poses for a senior picture. He is currently embroiled in a fight with the MHSA over eligibility.

HELENA -- Last month, the parents of Helena High student Jay Johnston filed suit against the MHSA and the Helena School District in an effort to get their son eligible to play soccer.

After the initial court filing, the MHSA filed its own brief seeking to dismiss the temporary restraining order that was requested on behalf of Johnston, by his mother and pro se attorney, Bridget Johnston.

If granted, the temporary restraining order would make Johnston, who previously played soccer at Helena High in 2018 and other years prior, immediately eligible for varsity competition.

In the motion to dismiss, the attorney for the MHSA argued that the request for a temporary restraining order was inappropriate.

"It is apparent that a request for a temporary restraining order is inappropriate in this case, as plaintiffs seek an order enjoining enforcement of a specific MHSA rule, rather than preservation of the status quo. The status quo is and continues to be recognition of James' ineligibility for participation in athletic activities based on well-established academic rules."

The MHSA has argued that Johnston, who completed his schooling at an accredited online course, didn't do so by the end of the semester at Helena High, which was required of him to remain eligible.

However, the Johnston's counter that claim by arguing that Jay Johnston should be eligible as a transfer and that he should be eligible for the one-time, come-home exception.

In a text message last month, Mark Beckman, the executive director of the MHSA, did note that Johnston would be eligible, as a transfer, for non-varsity competition.

"Per the particular by-law," Beckman said.

Yet, according to Bridget Johnston, requests to allow Jay Johnston to play junior varsity soccer at Helena High were also denied.

The MHSA cited section 2.1 of the MHSA handbook stating why Johnston should not be eligible:

"A student must be enrolled in twenty hours per week and in regular attendance in ten hours per week at the school where the student participates. Regular attendance is defined as actual physical presence in the building (bricks and mortar). A home school student is not eligible to participate for an MHSA member school."

However, as Beckman confirmed to the Independent Record, Johnston would be eligible to play in non-varsity competition citing this by-law in section 10.1 of the MHSA handbook:

"Any student who transfers from one member high school, home school, or non-member school to a member high school is ineligible to participate in a varsity Association Contest for half the number of P.I. days in the current school year of the school to which he/she transfers from the date of enrollment (first day he/she attends classes) in the school to which he/she transfers."

This brings into question whether or not Johnston would be eligible via an exception listed in section 10.1-H, which is what he and his parents have argued.

"A student who has attended high school and resides in a district other than where the student’s parent(s) resides, and who subsequently returns to live with the student’s parents becomes immediately transfer eligible for varsity competition in the parent’s district. This can be applied only one time during the student’s career."

Beckman and the MHSA have argued that because Johnston's father also went to Italy, that established a new residence and therefore, he would be ineligible under the come-home exception.

Yet, during his time in Italy, Johnston never lived with his father and instead, stayed in a dorm, leaving open the question about residence as far as eligibility is concerned.

The two parties were scheduled to appear before a judge Wednesday in Helena District court, but the hearing has now been pushed to Friday.

"It looks like he will be forced to miss yet another game," Bridget Johnston said. "We hope the judge either rules early and we can get him in (Friday) or he misses that game and Saturday day too which leaves just two regular season games left."  

Helena High will take on Kalispell Glacier Friday and Kalispell Flathead Saturday. The regular season concludes for the Bengals next week.

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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