WIAA files appeal that could lead to the 'return of awards' in the case of Waterford's (Wis.) Hayden Halter

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WIAA files appeal that could lead to the 'return of awards' in the case of Waterford's (Wis.) Hayden Halter

Wrestling

WIAA files appeal that could lead to the 'return of awards' in the case of Waterford's (Wis.) Hayden Halter

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The battle between the WIAA and Hayden Halter continues.

The WIAA has filed a petition to appeal a Racine County court’s decision that allowed Halter to resume wrestling by placing an injunction on a suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that would have ended his season.

Halter, a sophomore at Waterford, went on to win the Division 1 120-pound title at the state individual wrestling tournament Saturday in Madison, his second state championship.

If the WIAA’s petition is granted and, subsequently, the injunction is reversed, Halter’s state title could come under question

A court of appeals will hear the WIAA’s petition for an appeal of the decision and, if the court grants permission, the case would be allowed to proceed to where a ruling would be made on the appeal.

“We are pursuing a review of the decision,” a WIAA spokeperson told the Journal Sentinel. “We think the filing speaks for itself, and at this time, we are directing our focus and efforts on the tournaments and the many student-athletes, schools and communities involved with them.”

The suspension

During a Southern Lakes Conference championship match on Feb. 2, Halter received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – one for questioning an official’s call and one for flexing his arm. According to the official, Michael Arendt, Halter responded to a call at the end of the match with profanity and flexed his muscles and shouted at an opposing crowd from Burlington, which was where Halter attended and wrestled as a freshman.

WIAA rules mandate a one-match suspension for anyone who receives two unsportsmanlike penalties in a match, which made Halter ineligible to compete in the regional meet at Pewaukee. Without wrestling at regionals, Halter would not have been able to advance in the postseason.

The Halter family and its lawyers, however, took the WIAA to court, where Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek issued an injunction to block the suspension. Halter did not lose a match after that.

“There’s nothing we did to twist anything,” Waterford head coach Tom Fitzpatrick said following the state final Saturday. “The judge that oversaw it said the same thing. He felt there was overwhelming evidence in our favor. That’s why we pursued it. (Halter) didn’t do anything wrong and it shouldn’t be taken away from him.”

The WIAA’s case

The WIAA is presenting two primary issues as it contests “whether the circuit court erred in granting the temporary restraining order.”

The first is the court’s second-guessing of the official’s specific calls. The second is regarding the court involving itself “in the internal affairs” of the WIAA’s administration of its own rules.

“It is a well-recognized rule that courts generally do not interfere in the affairs of a voluntary association, such as the WIAA,” the organization’s petition states.

During a phone interview Wednesday, Halter’s lawyer, Jeremy Levinson, called the WIAA’s petition to appeal the injunction “unusual” due to the time frame of the injunction.

“What I’m curious about is that they’re appealing the preliminary injunction despite the fact that the injunction has no further effect because Hayden wrestled and won the championship,” Levinson said. “Now the season is over. There’s no more matches for him to participate in. It’s not clear what they’re appealing.”

WIAA could impose ‘a number of penalties’

Waterford’s Hayden Halter can’t quite pick up the pin against Pulaski’s Cole Gille but still wins the 120-pound title in Division 1 by an 8-3 decision Saturday. (Photo: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

If the court grants the WIAA the right to appeal, there remains a possibility that any wins recorded by Halter in the postseason, including the state championship, could come into question.

Levinson argues that, since the WIAA wrestling season is over, an appeal after the season would not be relevant to the matches that he won while the injunction was in place.

“The wins have nothing to do with their appeal,” Levinson said. “It isn’t discussed in their appeal papers. That’s a separate issue. I suppose a court could issue an order that says that the preliminary injunction is reversed, but it wouldn’t do anything.”

However, the WIAA’s appeal states that if the injunction is not ultimately upheld, it “may impose a number of penalties, including the return of awards and adjusting standings.”

Whether or not this means Halter would be stripped of his state title or Pulaski senior Cole Gille, who lost to Halter in the championship match, would instead be named state champion remains to be seen.

What is clear is that clear that the WIAA is not ready to give up on the case, even if that’s the wish of Halter and Levinson.

“I’ve been trying to find a way to put this to bed,” Levinson said. “(Halter) wanted to wrestle, and we accomplished that for him. We have no need to continue litigating with anybody.

“Want to put this to bed, but that requires the WIAA’s cooperation.”

Contact  Curt Hogg at  chogg@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CyrtHogg

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WIAA files appeal that could lead to the 'return of awards' in the case of Waterford's (Wis.) Hayden Halter
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