Princehoward Yee Staff photo by Derek Davis

Deering High School’s principal says he denied varsity eligibility for a baseball player living in Falmouth because he “sincerely” believed the student transferred to the school “primarily for athletic purposes.”

Documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court outline why Deering High Principal Gregg Palmer denied sophomore Princehoward Yee a transfer waiver for varsity eligibility after the previously home-schooled student was allowed to enroll at Deering.

The waiver is required by the Maine Principals’ Association when a student transfers without a corresponding change in residence. The student, parent(s) and both the sending and receiving principals must certify that a transfer is not primarily for athletic purposes.

Palmer and Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana are listed as co-defendants in the federal lawsuit filed by Yee’s father, Howard Yee of Falmouth. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to allow Princehoward Yee, commonly known by his middle name, Barbecue, to attempt to make the varsity team. Because the MPA rules only pertain to varsity athletics, Yee could be allowed to practice with the team and play junior varsity.

Palmer’s grounds for questioning the Yees’ motives were spelled out in the 88-page Opposition Memorandum filed Thursday by Melissa A. Hewey, the lawyer for the Portland school district.

Reasons Palmer cited included:

Howard Yee misrepresented their residence as being in Portland when his son was a freshman. That way he was allowed to play at Deering without going through the transfer process. At that time, Palmer was the principal at Falmouth High.

Princehoward Yee told Melanie Craig, Deering’s athletic director, that he was coming to Deering to play baseball.

Howard Yee had previously expressed disdain for Deering as an academic institution on several occasions.

The lawsuit’s assertion that Deering has smaller class sizes than Falmouth is erroneous.

While Howard Yee says his son is attending Deering for its academic rigor, the sophomore is enrolled in the minimum number of classes to be considered a full-time student, taking physics, health and physical education, and generally leaving school before a 45-minute academic support block that precedes the fourth and final academic block.

He is currently not passing physics, which means he will be placed on academic probation and will be ineligible to play in any scrimmages or games for 21 days.

“Based on all of this information, I determined that I could not, in good faith, certify to the MPA that PY’s transfer was not primarily for athletic purposes,” Palmer states in the school’s court filing, which refers to Princehoward Yee as PY and his father as HY.

EVALUATING REASON FOR TRANSFER

Palmer informed Howard Yee of his decision via email March 16. Sixteen minutes later, according to the court documents, the father stated in his own email that “if we have known (sic) he would have enrolled in (Falmouth) instead.” Palmer wrote this further confirmed he was correct in denying eligibility.

Hewey declined to comment on the case, saying the memorandum spoke for her and the school district.

Craig’s statement in the memorandum says she spoke with Falmouth Athletic Director James Coffey and both “agreed that based on our experiences with this family, PY’s transfer was primarily for athletic purposes.”

The memorandum also emphasizes that school officials repeatedly told the Yees that enrolling at Deering did not automatically grant athletic privileges.

“I made it clear to Plaintiff that PY’s attendance at DHS and his athletic eligibility were two different things,” Botana states in his declaration.

Botana also states that while he and Falmouth Superintendent Geoff Bruno approved Yee’s student transfer on Jan. 25, he was not officially enrolled at Deering until March because of Howard Yee’s delay in responding to several requests for necessary paperwork.

Princehoward Yee has been home-schooled for much of his high school career. He took some classes at Falmouth in the fall of his freshman year, then took two supplemental courses at Deering last spring before returning to a home-school setting for the first five months of this school year.

The Yees’ attorney, Michael J. Waxman, will file his response memorandum Monday and a hearing will be held in front of Chief Judge Nancy Torresen on Wednesday.

Waxman contends that the key point of the lawsuit remains unchallenged. Yee, regarded as a promising baseball player, was denied a “valuable opportunity,” and that Palmer’s actions were a “violation of the (Yees) constitutional right to substantive and procedural due process.”

“The way this went down was remarkably unfair. It doesn’t explain to me why (Palmer) waited a month and a half to determine he was ineligible,” Waxman said Thursday. “There was no back and forth with the family, no questions asked by Palmer, and then, bam, a day or two before practice begins, he’s told he can’t compete for a varsity spot.”

Waxman also said that Princehoward Yee was at an academic disadvantage during the period when Portland school officials said he was not fully registered. Waxman said he was not issued a school laptop and could not access the online portal to view assignments and communicate with teachers.

“He was attending school. They make a claim that his GPA is not up to snuff and I think that’s an inaccurate statement,” Waxman said.

The use of an ineligible player does result in a forfeit under MPA rules, but Waxman questioned the school’s worst-case scenario that letting Yee play varsity baseball would have put the whole team at risk.

DENYING DUE-PROCESS VIOLATION

“They make it sound like if some school, say Falmouth, says, ‘Hey, he’s ineligible,’ that the whole team is off the charts,” Waxman said. “How does that happen? If you say (the transfer) is for academic and athletic reasons, is somebody able to prove otherwise? The fact is, he was having a better experience at Deering, and who is going to say, ‘You’re a liar,’ and then have some independent body say, ‘Yes, you’re a liar.’ ”

The school district’s memorandum makes a point of dismissing the validity of the lawsuit on its legal grounds, in particular the contention that denying Yee the chance to play varsity baseball is a due-process violation. Hewey cited 18 cases from across the country that supported the legitimacy of school districts or athletic organizations like the MPA enforcing eligibility rules.

A 2003 case, “Pelletier vs. the Maine Principals’ Ass’n” decided in Maine’s U.S. District Court, found there “is, after all, no independent constitutional right to engage in interscholastic athletics.”

‘I KNOW HE’S A GREAT KID’

Last spring, as a freshman, Yee began the season as Deering’s starting varsity catcher. At that time he was taking two science classes at Deering. After the fourth game, Howard Yee removed his son from the team “to permit him to focus his energies and attention on the two science classes,” the Yees’ suit states.

“As a player, we had him last year and he was the catcher for the varsity team and he probably would have been used as a pitcher, as well,” Deering baseball coach Josh Stowell said. “We are looking forward to having him again this year, if it works out. I know he’s a great kid. I just wish this stuff could be over for him. He works hard.”

In the original lawsuit, Yee is identified as “one of the state of Maine’s most promising high school baseball players (a sophomore with an 85 mile per hour fastball).” The lawsuit contends that denying Yee a varsity baseball season could “impair his college opportunities.”

In her memorandum, Hewey wrote, “Indeed if PY really is an ‘extraordinary baseball player’ … it would be expected that colleges would be interested in recruiting him regardless of whether he plays baseball for DHS.”

Howard Yee and Palmer did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment Thursday.

Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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