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Committee Reaffirms Iti Ruling

November 09, 2000|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reaffirming a recent ruling by Southern Section Commissioner James Staunton, a section hearing committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to sustain the athletic suspension of Villa Park basketball player Martin Iti.

Tom Byrnes, a former state and section commissioner who served as chair of the three-person committee, said there was insufficient evidence to overturn Staunton's decision last week to uphold Villa Park Principal Fran Roney's one-year suspension of Iti.

The 6-foot-11 junior was suspended in September for allegedly providing false information about his academic status when he left Australia in 1998 to further his basketball career in the United States.

Cynthia Grennan, a former section executive committee member who was on the hearing committee, told Roney, "I think with the information you have been provided . . . you made the best judgment you could make at the time."

Ronald E. Lais, an attorney representing Iti, said he was "shocked" by the committee's decision and intends to file an appeal with the California Interscholastic Federation state office once he receives the paperwork in a few days. He said he will file a lawsuit against the section if the state office rules against his client.

The hearing focused on two issues: Iti's alleged falsification of his academic status and a section bylaw that allows students eight consecutive semesters of athletic eligibility.

Lais said Iti was confused when he told Orange Unified High School District officials he was in ninth grade when he left Australia, though school records indicated he was in the 10th grade. When asked whether Roney would characterize Iti's statements as a "falsification" or simply a case of a "a teenager who got confused," she chose the former.

The discrepancy in Iti's grade level is significant because it effects his remaining number of semesters of athletic eligibility. Taking into account Iti's Australian transcript and his two subsequent years in the American high school system, Staunton said there were "seven legitimate semesters of eligibility he has been allowed."

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