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Riverdale High School senior challenges Oregon rules limiting athletic eligibility

Collin Styring has been a straight-A student since sixth grade, a varsity soccer player for three years and is about to start his senior year at Riverdale High School in Southwest Portland.

But Collin is also in his fifth year of high school, after transferring to Riverdale in 2010 and repeating his freshman year. And those five years makes Collin ineligible to compete on his high school sports teams, despite being 17 years old, like his peers.

That disturbs his parents, who believe that Styring is being treated unfairly and want him to be able to help his Riverdale boys soccer team defend its title as small-school state champions.

“He’s the real deal,” said his father, Stephen Styring, of his son’s athletic ability. “It’s doubly sad for him.”

They have filed an administrative appeal to the decision by the Oregon School Activities Association. At the same time, they have asked a Multnomah County Circuit judge to force Riverdale School District and the OSAA to allow Collin to play varsity soccer and to immediately allow him to practice with his team.

While OSAA executive director Tom Welter said he understands the family’s disappointment, he noted that the rules made by the association’s 293 member schools are clear — four years of athletic eligibility are sufficient. “High school is about education,” Welter said. “Our focus is to complement that educational process.”

He and the OSAA executive board have already reviewed Collin’s situation, finding that it does not qualify as one of the permissible exceptions to its rules. A hearings officer is scheduled to consider the family’s appeal next week.

Collin’s five-year-long high school career stems from an unusual mix of circumstances. His parents, who own Styring Vineyards in Newberg, arranged for him to skip eighth grade and attend Newberg High School as a freshman in 2009. While at Newberg, he participated in track and field, but not soccer.

But his parents felt he still wasn’t getting academically challenged enough, according to their lawyer, Ross Day.

So they moved their family to Portland and enrolled him at Riverdale High School in 2010. He repeated his freshman year in part because Riverdale requires four more credits than the Oregon high school minimum of 24 and his parents wanted him to have enough time to take all the necessary classes, Day said.

They also liked the idea of Collin being the same age as his peers.

He played varsity soccer from his first year with Riverdale, was on the team that won the Class 3A/2A/1A championship in November 2012, and was named all-league honorable mention.

But last spring, they learned that he might not be considered eligible to play soccer in OSAA-sanctioned games this fall.

His parents appealed his ineligibility. But they did not learn until last week that OSAA rules prohibit Collin from practicing with the team while an appeal is underway. That is unfair, his father said, adding that others had assured them that he could keep practicing.

“It seems to us and it seems to Collin as purely punitive… He can’t even practice with his team,” his father said, his voice breaking several times throughout a phone interview.

Stephen Styring contends the rules are also taking away an educational choice for his son. The school allows students who have taken at least one trimester of Riverdale’s gym class to earn a half-credit from sports participation. The school requires one credit of physical education to graduate.

Although Collin has taken the gym class, he was planning on getting credit for soccer this fall, his father said. Although the school recently said it is willing to count his past participation as a half-credit, Stephen Styring contends his son’s educational choices are being limited.

“All the kids have choices except for Collin,” he said.

He also said that the OSAA eligibility requirements are not well publicized. “We are very, very active parents,” he said. “For something like this to escape us is mind-boggling.”

— Helen Jung

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