Panel: Hopf transfer was over athletics, not bullyingNovember 19, 2019
By GORDON ENGELHARDT
Evansville Courier & Press
A standout Southern Indiana basketball player lobbied IHSAA officials for a transfer on the grounds that he was bullied, though school officials painted a picture of a meddling parent interfering with her son’s team and its coaching staff.
An Indiana Department of Education Case Review panel last week, in a 7-0 vote, denied a request from high school junior Curt Hopf and his family that the 6-foot-7 forward be allowed to play this winter at Barr-Reeve High School after transferring from Forest Park.
Hopf has drawn interest from Indiana, Purdue and the University of Evansville, among others. He is the younger brother of Clint Hopf, a 2007 Indiana All-Star who played at UE and is considered the No. 12 player in the state’s Class of 2021 by the IndyStar.
It was the third denial of his eligibility, following two from the IHSAA.
The Courier & Press, through an open records request, obtained a copy of the Case Review Panel’s final order and finding of facts from Hopf’s hearing with the Department of Education body.
Hopf’s parents completed the transfer report and Curt Hopf indicated the transfer from Forest Park to Barr-Reeve occurred because his “parents wanted a more positive school environment,” according to the panel’s findings of fact document.
“The parents believe that Barr-Reeve’s school environment will allow Hopf to excel with a more enjoyable experience his last two years of high school.”
However, Forest Park and Barr-Reeve both recommended that Hopf have no eligibility under Rule 19-4 this season. Neither school signed the limited eligibility waiver. IHSAA Rule 19-4 deals with eligibility and transfers. Briefly, it says a player cannot transfer from one school to another primarily for athletic reasons. If that is considered the case, a player is ineligible to play varsity for 365 days after the transfer for his or her new school.
While at Forest Park, Hopf reported to school officials that he was being bullied. The incidents involved the petitioner being called “ugly” and “soft,” making fun of his religious beliefs and disparaging comments about his basketball abilities. As a result of the bullying, the petitioner became withdrawn and no longer enjoyed going to school. The petitioner testified more than 10 students bullied him, including four members of the Rangers’ basketball team.
However, the Case Review Panel, in its decision, wrote that “(Hopf) has not met his burden to show there was a hardship condition, specifically bullying, that would outweigh the athletic motivation for the transfer to Barr-Reeve.”
The panel said there was “compelling evidence that demonstrates the move was primarily for athletic motivation.”
The document lays out examples of abundant friction between Forest Park officials and Hopf’s mother, who is not identified by name in the document but is referred to as “the petitioner’s mother.”
For instance, a Forest Park official testified that Hopf’s mother demanded her son play the point guard position in order to “give him more exposure to Division I college teams.”
In July 2018, Forest Park’s head basketball coaching position became available and Hopf’s mother questioned why a certain coach, who was not named in the panel’s document, was not given a second interview. Hopf’s mother openly questioned the current coaching staff’s abilities. According to the document, she told a Forest Park official they needed to hire a new coaching staff or the family would seek a transfer.
Additionally, Hopf’s mother asked if the school would be hiring a new coaching staff within the next two years.
Hopf’s mother denied making these statements at the Review Committee Hearing.
The case review panel order states that Forest Park Superintendent Jamie Pund said that Hopf’s mother told her that the coaching staff was doing “nothing” for Hopf and he should be treated differently because of his talents.
Messages were left by the Courier & Press seeking comment from both Pund and Barr-Reeve Schools Superintendent Travis Madison.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association initially ruled Hopf ineligible in August and then upheld that decision in October. Hopf’s family and their attorney appealed the decision to the Case Review Panel of the Indiana Department of Education.
Hopf averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds for Forest Park, which finished 15-10 under first-year coach David Welp last season. Hopf helped lead Forest Park to the Class 2A state finals and a 25-5 record as a freshman under former coach Jeff Litherland.
Barr-Reeve lost 60-43 to Fort Wayne Blackhawk in the Class A championship game last March.
Hopf will be eligible at Barr-Reeve on Aug. 1, 2020 — a year after he enrolled at the school, IHSAA spokesman Jason Wille told the Courier & Press.
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