Bishop Fenwick appeal denied by court

The MIAA State Tournament will not include Bishop Fenwick.

On Friday, the Essex Superior Court denied Bishop Fenwick’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have temporarily nullified the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (MIAA) postseason ban on the school for the 2023-24 athletic year. The ban will remain in place, leaving the Peabody school on the sidelines for the state tournaments.

While the decision is not overly surprising to many athletic and school administrators, it was not without deliberation. The Crusaders, represented by attorney Leo Fama, appeared before Justice Janice Howe of the Essex Superior Court on Monday afternoon in Lawrence. It took over three days for Howe to announce her decision.

“The MIAA is a voluntary member organization,” Howe wrote in her disposition. “For it to be effective in carrying out its purposes, its member schools agree to comply with MIAA rules.”

Bishop Fenwick received the first ever postseason ‘death penalty’ by the state’s athletic association for misleading multiple committees, most notably the Eligibility Appeal Board (EAB), on fifth-year waivers and then failure to take accountability. The lack of accountability is in opposition of MIAA Handbook rule 87.6. Much of the blame has resides with the school’s president Thomas Nunan. Fenwick received notice on June 8, but the information was made not available to the Fenwick student body or the public until July 21.

The Crusaders’ legal team tried to make the case that the MIAA’s punishment enforced ‘irreparable harm’ on its student-athletes. Howe, however, argued that the risk of irreparable harm actually weighed in favor of the MIAA.

“If there are no sanctions for violating the rules, the MIAA’s authority over its members is significantly diminished,” Howe wrote. “While the court does not want to discount the importance of participating in extracurricular activities, including athletics, for the student-participants, one must not forget that such participation is a privilege not a right.”

The MIAA’s statement included a hope of continuing to work with Bishop Fenwick going forward.

“The responsibility of accountability with each member school rests with each member school rests with each school’s leadership team,” an MIAA statement read. “In making decisions at the school level, the policies and procedures set forth by the member-driven Association must be followed. We are hopeful this decision allows everyone to move forward, and we welcome the opportunity to continue to work with Bishop Fenwick, a valued member of our Association.”

Nunan, the school’s president, expressed disappointment in the ruling in a statement and has yet to decide on how it will proceed.

“We have invested significant time and resources in advocating for our student-athletes and our Fenwick community,” Nunan wrote. “We will be discussing our options in the coming days.”

At a parent town hall on July 24, Nunan said the school would explore leaving the MIAA.

Bishop Fenwick midfielder Ruby Cahill steals the ball away from Pentucket forward Kayla Murphy during the Barbara Damon Invitational at Danvers High. (Libby O’Neill/Boston Herald)

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