A hearing in U.S. District Court before a magistrate provided no resolution as his family seeks a temporary restraining order to immediately allow him to participate in the event. “It kinda looks like track season is over for Max, basically.”

Max Stokey won’t immediately return to pole vaulting for Hoover High.

A hearing in U.S. District Court before a magistrate provided no resolution Thursday afternoon as his family seeks a temporary restraining order to immediately allow him to participate in the event.

Stokey, a middle school state champ a year ago, has been “restricted from participating” in the school’s pole vault program by North Canton Superintendent Jeff Wendorf following concerns by the athlete’s family over the safety of vaulting in the rain.

Mike Stokey, father of the Hoover freshman, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking the restraining order and preliminary injunction to allow his son to pole vault before the season ends. The lawsuit, which names the school board and Wendorf, contends Mike Stokey’s First Amendment rights to free speech have been violated after he expressed safety concerns to school administrators and board members on behalf of his son over practicing in rainy conditions.

“The magistrate tried to get us to resolve this,” Mike Stokey said after Thursday’s hearing in Akron. “North Canton is adamant that they leave it the way it is.”

The magistrate will make a recommendation to the judge, which could take up to 14 days. The district track meet begins May 16.

“It kinda looks like track season is over for Max, basically,” Mike Stokey said.

In the North Canton City Schools’ response to the Stokeys’ complaint, it contends the action taken by Wendorf was not motivated by Mike Stokey’s speech to the board or various school administrators.

It states “this action was not retaliation for Plaintiff’s manifesting his First Amendment right to speak out about his son’s pole vaulting.”

“Simply, his son refused the coach’s directive to practice pole vaulting in the rain. No other pole vaulter on the Hoover High School team refused to do so. In addition, in conversations with the coach and others, the district became aware that plaintiff and his son did not believe that the pole vaulting coach at Hoover High School knew what he was doing. In fact, the evidence will show that they had absolutely no trust in that coach. Learning this, the Superintendent determined to remove plaintiff’s son from pole vaulting for Hoover High School.”

Max Stokey’s ban from pole vault activity stems from a practice April 3 when he declined to practice the pole vault in wet conditions for safety reasons, and he instead finished his sprint workout. He said he had been injured twice in preseason because of practicing the pole vault in wet conditions.

The Akron-Canton area received 2 inches of rain April 3, according to the National Weather Service, and nearly all scheduled high school sporting events in Stark County were canceled that day. In a letter to Max’s mother, Kristi Stokey, Hoover head coach Nick Stroemple said there was a 30-minute break in the rain when pole vault coach Pete Nupp wanted Max to practice the pole vault.

Also, the North Canton City School memorandum states, “It is common practice to pole vault in the rain.”

Stroemple told Max Stokey at the next practice he would not be allowed to compete in the pole vault at the team’s next meet since he had not practiced April 3. Mike Stokey communicated his displeasure to Stroemple, Hoover administrators and at least two board members in the ensuing days.

Mike Stokey eventually spoke at a board of education meeting April 18, expressing his concerns and hoped to create a policy for vaulting in poor weather. The next day, April 19, he received an email from Wendorf with a letter detailing Max’s ban from the pole vault at Hoover.

In his suit, Mike Stokey hoped for a return to the status quo, meaning Max could return to pole vaulting and would be subject to district policy on being suspended from meets if he had not practiced in the week prior.

North Canton Schools contend it, “... learned that plaintiff and his son had no trust in the pole vault coach and wanted to practice vaulting at a private club, only to participate in meets, if it were not raining.”

“... Plaintiff would have his son practice elsewhere, appearing at the meet, only to displace one of the Hoover pole vaulters who had come to practice with the team during the time before the meet.”

North Canton Schools further argued, “Should the injunction be issued, other pole vaulters on the Hoover High School Track Team will be unjustifiably harmed if they are precluded from participation in a track meet because plaintiff’s son decides to practice elsewhere and only appear at track meets, if it’s not raining.

“Finally, the public interest will not be served by enjoining the district from enforcing its reasonable rules and regulations regarding interscholastic sports.”

 

Reach Chris at 330-580-8345 or

chris.beaven@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @cbeavenREP