Harming Harmon’s future

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By Chris Leach

**Update** Harmon has joined Belle Vista College Prep's basketball team, which is based out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Harmon will play with the team on the weekends while remaining enrolled at Marshall County High School, unaffecting his KHSAA eligibility.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) does many good things for high school athletes in Kentucky, such as providing them with a platform to compete with the best all across the state.

At the same time, the organization makes some head-scratching decisions that are too much for the level of high school athletics.

The latest drama surrounding the KHSAA is the story of Zion Harmon’s ineligibility for the 2018-19 boys basketball season. Harmon, one of the top players nationally in the 2021 class, is a sophomore at Marshall County High School in Benton, but he hasn’t played a minute of basketball this season because of rules that are unnecessary for the high school level.

For those of you that don’t know Harmon’s story, let me fill you in.

Harmon first played varsity basketball as a seventh grader for the Lighthouse Christian School in Tennessee, and in his eighth grade year he was a member of Bowling Green’s state-championship winning team.

Harmon played for Adair County as a freshman last year and averaged 32.7 points per game, which led the entire state. This past summer, Harmon transferred to Marshall County, but was ruled ineligible for the basketball season on Oct. 16.

The KHSAA cited its own rule, Bylaw 6, as the reason for Harmon’s ineligibility. The rules states that every varsity athlete that transfers to another school must sit out the following season after transferring, but it offers a few exceptions. One of the most common exceptions in Bylaw 6 is “a bona fide change of residence,” such as an athlete moving because of parent divorce or other reasons.

However, the KHSAA can still deem an athlete ineligible if they feel that a transfer was motivated by a desire to participate in another school’s athletic program. In Harmon’s case, the KHSAA cited comments made by Harmon’s father, Mike Harmon, in a hearing with the KHSAA that made the association believe Harmon’s transfer was because of athletics.

“The coach is all about the coach,” is indeed “a consideration to think about,” Mike Harmon said in the hearing.

The Harmon family appealed the KHSAA’s decision, but the appeal was denied on Nov. 15. In December, the Harmon family filed a complaint saying that the KHSAA violated due process, but judge Thomas Russell of U.S. District Court in Paducah denied Harmon’s injunction on Jan. 11.

Russell’s ruling ultimately ended any chance that Harmon would suit up for Marshall County in the regular season. Harmon’s ineligibility expires just before the state tournament in Rupp Arena, so if Marshall County makes it that deep in the postseason, he can play, but Marshall County is currently in the middle of the pack in the region one standings, and their chances of getting past some of the region’s best are slim, leaving Harmon with no hope of playing basketball this year.

It was rumored on Sunday night that Harmon would be joining a private high school’s basketball team in Florida, Downey Christian, while remaining enrolled at Marshall County so he can get some playing time somewhere this season.

That technically could’ve worked. Downey Christian isn’t a part of the Florida High School Athletic Association, it’s in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association, meaning he wouldn’t be violating any of the rules that have spoiled his eligibility in Kentucky.

However, in order for Harmon to play for Downey Christian, Harmon would need to be enrolled at the school in Florida, and the Harmon family told Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier-Journal they want to stay in Kentucky.

Harmon’s dad told Frakes they are currently receiving clarification from the KHSAA on Harmon’s options this season, but for the meantime, he won’t be joining Downey Christian and he won’t be suiting up for Marshall County till March 5, if Marshall County can make it that far in the postseason.

That leaves Harmon with no option to play basketball this season, which is something someone of Harmon’s age shouldn’t have to experience.

Of course players shouldn’t transfer to other schools so they can gain benefits athletically, but I don’t think they should experience the bureaucratic side of sports while they’re still in high school.

Harmon could reclassify to the 2020 class, meaning he’d only have one year of eligibility left after this season.

If Harmon doesn’t play high school basketball this season, it’ll be a big let down on KHSAA’s part, and I think they should do something to make him eligible before the season’s end.