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PIAA transfer rule to keep California’s Ramsey out of WPIAL postseason

Chris Harlan
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Ben Bamford | Mon Valley Independent
California’s Malik Ramsey competes during the 2018-19 season.
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Mike Darnay | Mon Valley Independent
California’s Malik Ramsey competes during the 2018-19 season.
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Mike Darnay | Mon Valley Independent
California’s Malik Ramsey competes during the 2018-19 season.

California’s Malik Ramsey, one of the top scorers in the WPIAL, won’t take part in the basketball playoffs.

He’s healthy. He’s academically eligible. He’s a huge part of why the Trojans finished third in Section 2-2A and claimed a playoff spot. But the 6-foot-4 junior transferred from Laurel Highlands in the fall, so Ramsey is ineligible for the postseason under a strict new PIAA rule created last summer.

The 25-point scorer finished his season with a 30-point effort in Monday’s regular-season finale.

“That was his last game,” California coach Aaron Balla said. “I pointed it out in the locker room and let everybody know. I said, ‘I want you guys to carry on what Malik has done. But I want you to thank him for what he’s done and the sacrifices he’s made.’ I thanked him personally. The other coaches thanked him. And we gave him a big hug.”

Ramsey will quickly transition to AAU season — he plays for two teams — but that moment Monday night was tough.

“Sitting in the locker room, knowing that was the last game of my junior season was heartbreaking,” Ramsey said. “But them comforting me and telling me it was OK, I still have next year, made things a lot better actually.”

Ramsey and his teammates knew for months that he’d be ineligible, but that didn’t make it easier to accept a situation that was out of their hands.

His previous school didn’t contest his transfer and the WPIAL didn’t find athletic intent. Family-related reasons led to his move, Ramsey said.

But in an effort to reduce athletically motivated transfers, the PIAA created a wide-reaching rule last summer that says any transfer after the start of 10th grade is automatically ineligible for the playoffs, if the student played that sport at his or her previous school.

Ramsey played basketball as a sophomore at Laurel Highlands, so he’s ineligible for this year’s playoffs. Yet one of Ramsey’s teammates transferred in this season from Carmichaels, but he’s eligible for the playoffs because he didn’t play basketball last season.

“I’m all about the rules, but I do think this rule is a Band-Aid for a bigger problem: the public vs. private problem,” California athletic director Chris Minerd said. “I think it’s a little unfortunate. Obviously, we abide by the rules set forth by the PIAA, but I don’t think it’s solving the bigger problem.”

California asked the WPIAL to reconsider, but the school’s appeal was denied following an eligibility hearing Nov. 19.

“It was kind of a short meeting, because I think they were just trying to get us out of there,” Ramsey said. “We went in there and were trying to explain our side, but they basically said, ‘Look, it’s not happening.’”

The PIAA rule says a district committee “may waive this period of ineligibility upon demonstration by the student that the transfer was necessitated by exceptional and unusual circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the student’s family.”

But the reasons deemed sufficient are strict:

• A change of residence necessitated by a change in employment.

• A school-initiated administrative transfer within a school district.

• A court-ordered transfer.

• A change of schools caused by a military reassignment of a parent.

• A change of schools caused by release from a juvenile facility.

• Or, a demonstrable change in income or other financial resources that compels withdrawal from a private school.

The PIAA rule also states that a transfer for “academic, developmental, spiritual and/or social reasons” does not meet the hardship waiver standard. Nor does “a change of residence resulting from a family separation, unless court approved.”

California lacked sufficient evidence to meet one of those criteria, Minerd said, so the school didn’t take its appeal to the PIAA. The school didn’t believe its case would be any stronger at the state level than what was presented to the WPIAL, he said.

“It breaks my heart,” said Balla, a 2009 California graduate, “because this kid has passion for the sport and you’re taking that away from him for a situation he has no control over.”

Ramsey will be coaching his teammates from the bench Saturday when No. 10 California faces seventh-seeded Sto-Rox in the first round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.

The teams meet at 1:30 p.m. at Keystone Oaks.

“I’m going to be talking to them on defense, on offense, telling them who’s behind them, who’s coming to trap them,” Ramsey said. “I’m going to be very vocal the whole entire game.”

And for the duration of the playoffs, California has one of the best scout-team practice players in the WPIAL.

“I tell him all the time, ‘Dude, you don’t always have to be strong like that. You don’t always have to keep your chin up when it’s tough,’” Balla said. “If you let a tear out or let emotions show, it’s understandable. We’ve all been there.

“But he’s such a great kid, he’s level-headed, he tries to be the man and plays the role.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.