Thirty-one months after celebrating a state basketball championship, Cheverus High School has been asked to return the Gold Ball because it used an ineligible player.

A committee of the Maine Principals’ Association voted Monday to strip the Stags of their 2009-10 Class A boys’ basketball title.

It is the first time the association has vacated a team championship, said Richard Durost, executive director of the MPA, which governs high school sports in the state.

Cheverus also was stripped of its 2009-10 Western Maine regional title. The championships won’t be awarded to the teams that Cheverus beat in the regional and state finals.

Monday’s vote ended a case that moved through the courts for more than two years after Cheverus asked the MPA to clarify the eligibility of Indiana Faithfull, who started high school in Australia before attending the private Jesuit school in Portland for his final three years.

“We certainly would have liked to have settled this long ago,” said Durost, “but the court system does not move quickly.”

The MPA first declared Faithfull ineligible in late January 2010 because he had completed eight consecutive semesters of high school, starting in Australia. The MPA later said that Faithfull also violated its rule limiting high school athletes to four seasons of competition in any sport.

The 6-foot-3 point guard sat out the final three games of the regular season, but played in the state tournament because Justice Joyce Wheeler granted an injunction and temporary restraining order after Faithfull’s parents challenged the MPA’s ruling in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Wheeler found it likely that Faithfull would win a lawsuit claiming he was discriminated against based on his national origin.

Cheverus was 15-0 when Faithfull was taken off the roster. The Stags entered the playoffs with a 17-1 record and beat Scarborough and Windham after his return.

He scored 22 points in a 56-46 victory over Westbrook in the Western Maine Class A championship game, and 23 points in a 55-50 victory over Edward Little of Auburn for the state title.

One year later, with Faithfull enrolled at St. Thomas More post-graduate prep school in Connecticut, the Maine Human Rights Commission issued an 11-page report supporting his discrimination claim.

In particular, the report cited instances in which the MPA had granted athletic waivers to students for circumstances beyond their control: “The MPA should recognize that a student’s national origin is also a circumstance beyond his control and not apply the Four Seasons Rule in such cases.”

One month later, in May 2011, the commission voted 2-2 on charges of discrimination and retaliation brought by the Faithfull family against the MPA. Because there was no majority, the commission entered a finding of no reasonable grounds.

By then, Faithfull had accepted a Division I basketball scholarship at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he is now a sophomore.

Back in court this spring, Wheeler dismissed her temporary restraining order because “the controversy was not yet ripe,” said Paul Greene, a Portland attorney who represented Faithfull and his family, meaning no action had been taken against the player or his school.

That cleared the way for Monday’s 2½-hour hearing in Augusta, Durost said, and the 11-0 vote by a committee of principals and assistant principals.

Durost said that from the start, “Cheverus did the right thing. They removed him from the roster. Had it not been for the student and family filing for the (temporary restraining order), the school would not have been placed in jeopardy.”

The Cheverus administration issued a statement Monday afternoon announcing the ruling and the history behind it, but declining comment on the substance of the ruling before it could be reviewed thoroughly.

Attempts to reach Faithfull and retired Cheverus basketball coach Bob Brown were not successful.

Greene said the MPA and the Faithfulls agreed in the spring not to pursue the matter further.

“We fully expected this would happen,” he said. “We just didn’t want to spend two more years litigating this.”

Greene said the controversy stems from imposing American rules on another country’s system.

He said high school athletes in Australia play in what would be considered five winter seasons in the United States. Seniors graduate in December, he said, halfway through the basketball season, so ninth-graders begin playing in January. They start again in October, while still in ninth grade.

“(Faithfull) wasn’t trying to manipulate the system,” Greene said. “If you wanted to come here for big-time basketball, no offense to the state of Maine, you just don’t come here. You go to Virginia or New York or some place like that.”

As a practical matter, Durost said, the MPA will ask Cheverus to return the Gold Ball trophy and regional championship plaque, but “we will not be asking individual athletes to return their medals.”

Nor will Edward Little be declared state champion or Westbrook be declared Western Maine champion. Instead, MPA records will list the Class A basketball champion of 2009-10 as “Vacant.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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