Thirty-one months after celebrating its 2010 Class A basketball championship, Cheverus High School has been asked to return the Gold Ball.

A committee of the Maine Principals’ Association voted Monday to strip the Stags of their title for using an ineligible player, ending a saga that moved its way through the courts for more than two years. 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 Richard Durost, executive director of the MPA, which governs high school sports in the state. “But the court system does not move quickly.”

Durost said this marks the first time the MPA has vacated a team championship. Cheverus was also stripped of its 2009-10 Western Maine title.

The MPA first declared Faithfull ineligible in late January 2010 for already completing eight consecutive semesters of high school, owing to the fact that Australia’s school calendar begins one semester ahead of the United States, then later said he also violated the “Four Seasons of Competition” rule.

Faithful sat out the final three games of the regular season, but played in the state tournament when Justice Joyce Wheeler granted an injunction and temporary restraining order after Faithfull’s parents challenged the MPA ruling in Cumberland County Superior Court. She found it likely 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 tournament with a 17-1 record and posted wins over Scarborough and Windham with the return of their 6-foot-3 point guard. He scored 22 points in a 56-46 victory over Westbrook in the Western 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, a 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 when the MPA 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 scholarship offer to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he is now a sophomore.

Back in the court of law 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 MPA hearing in Augusta, lasting 2 1/2 hours, Durost said, and the 11-0 vote by a committee of principals and assistant principals.

“It certainly was not an easy decision,” Durost said, and made it clear that “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 thoroughly reviewed.

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

Greene, now an attorney with Terry Garmey & Associaties, 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. The family had already been through a Human Rights hearing and two years of back and forth with the MPA lawyers.”

Greene said the controversy stems from imposing American rules on a non-American system, and every high school athlete in Australia plays in what, in the United States, would be considered five winter seasons. Seniors graduate in December, he said, halfway through a basketball season, and ninth-graders begin playing in January, then pick up again in October while still in ninth grade.

“He 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 would ask Cheverus to return the Gold Ball 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 regional champion. Instead, MPA records will list “Vacant” under the Class A basketball champion of 2009-10.

Glenn Jordan — 791-6425

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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