Basketball fight: St. Thomas More lawsuit with WIAA back in court

The season is over, but the lawsuit goes on. A fight that started on a basketball court is back in a court of law.

In March, referees suspended the entire St. Thomas More High School basketball team – knocking them out of the playoffs. That is, until the school came to the Milwaukee County Courthouse and got a judge to let them back in

Members of St. Thomas More High School Cavaliers varsity boys basketball team involved in fight

It started as a shoving match – and resulted in player suspensions. What happened next was a first for St. Thomas More's longtime head coach John Hoch.

"We don’t question any calls that were made at that game," Hoch said.

John Hoch

After the game, referees suspended everyone – including players who stayed out of the scrum.

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"Not one of them pushed, threw a punch," Hoch said.

Members of St. Thomas More High School Cavaliers varsity boys basketball team involved in fight

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) refused to review the suspensions – which would have ended the Cavaliers' season. So the school sued – and a judge ordered the WIAA to let them play.

Barry Mano is president of the National Association of Sports Officials. 

"All of a sudden, we’ve got somebody in an ivory tower someplace playing referee. That is a dangerous precedent," Mano said.

Barry Mano

It is not the first time this has happened in Wisconsin. In 2019, a wrestling official ejected defending state champion Hayden Halter. His father sued, a judge granted a temporary injunction, and Halter took state again.

"II think the judges need to stay the hell out of that business," Mano said.

The WIAA eventually won that case – and stripped Halter of his title.

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This time, there is no title to strip from St. Thomas More – the team lost in the semifinals. In briefs filed with the court, the school's lawyers say the case is now moot. But the WIAA wants to discourage similar lawsuits in the future – by making a larger point about who should be the highest power in high school sports.

Lawyers for both sides were in court on Thursday expecting to make arguments. Instead, the court set aside a motion to dismiss – leaving both sides free to continue gathering evidence. 

A status hearing is now set for Aug. 19.