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A Greene County judge ruled Glendale quarterback Kylan Mabins can regain eligibility and play football at Glendale High School this fall.
Judge Derek Ankrom granted a preliminary injunction just after noon Friday, with Glendale scheduled to play at Bolivar at 7 p.m. Mabins can be granted a temporary injunction that would allow him to play football, provided he and his family post a bond of $1,000 at the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s Office.
A civil lawsuit by Mabins against the Missouri State High School Activities Association and Springfield Public Schools is still open.
In the order of injunction, Ankrom cautioned Springfield Public Schools officials against any retaliatory actions against Mabins based on claims of discrimination he brought against the school district. Ankrom also cautioned Springfield Public Schools officials about influencing members of the Glendale High School football coaching staff about whether or not the coaches should give Mabins playing time.
Late Friday, Springfield Public Schools issued a statement in response to Ankrom’s ruling, indicating the school district would appeal the judge’s decision.
“The district continues to deny the allegations of inappropriate conduct contained in the plaintiff’s petition and remains confident that our staff have, at all times, acted appropriately, lawfully and consistent with the athletic processes required by Board of Education policies and the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA),” the statement from SPS reads, in part.
Springfield Public Schools went on to question aloud whether or not the injunction in the Mabins case could go on to inspire other high school athletes to transfer schools solely for athletic reasons.
“Finally, the district is troubled by the future implications of the decision, which in our opinion, will have a negative impact on the ability of schools and MSHSAA to enforce the policies that govern high school athletics and activities statewide,” the statement reads.
The timeline of any future appeal in the Mabins case is unclear.
More of the judge’s words (Click to open)
In his 15-page order, Circuit Judge Derek A. Ankrom wrote in part:
“(T)he main factual issue before the Court is whether Mabins has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that his ineligibility determination, and MSHSAA’s investigation and subsequent proceedings in connection therewith, were ‘prompted by malice, fraud, or collusion.’”
“(B)ased upon the evidence presented at the preliminary injunction hearing, the Court is deeply troubled by the conduct of SPS and MSHSAA — in particular that of KHS’s athletic director and SPS’s district athletic director, who was simultaneously a member of MSHSAA’s Board of Directors”
“Evidence of malice on the part of KHS for GHS’s prior alleged conduct unrelated to Mabins abounds. For example, in connection with MSHSAA’s investigation, Mr. [Scot] Phillips, when asked to provide evidence of undue influence in connection with Mabin’s transfer primarily complained of ‘a pattern with other student athletes,’ which he told MSHSAA investigators included ‘a student from Ozarks who worked with [GHS football coaches] in 7th and 8th grade, then moved from Ozark to Glendale at the start of his 9th grade year,’ and ‘a Cherokee student, who transferred to [GHS] at the beginning of his 9th grade.’ Mr. Phillips complained that ‘there was a pattern of transferring since this was the third consecutive quarterback from either a [KHS] feeder or directly from [KHS] to [GHS].’ Nate Thomas, KHS’s football coach, told investigators that GHS’s coaching staff was ‘actively recruiting athletes, and it has been happening for years,’ and provided the example of an athlete from Lebanon, Missouri (not Mabins) who had attended a powerlifting meet at a gym owned by one of GHS’s coaches. Moreover, out of the sixteen pieces of ‘documentation’ KHS used to support its challenge to Mabin’s eligibility in connection with the MSHSAA Investigative Committee’s investigation, the vast majority had nothing to do with Mabins, relating only to prior students or GHS coaching staff’s private training business. In fact the MSHSAA Investigative Committee summarized the evidence on which KHS supposedly grounded its challenge to Mabins’s eligibility as constituting ‘no evidence to show specific recruitment’ of Mabins.’
“Credible evidence suggests that KHS, acting in concert with Mr. [Josh] Scott, prompted the undertakings of MSHSAA adverse to Mabins by fraud. The Court believes that Mr. Phillips and Mr. Scott knew that KHS’s factual bases for objecting to Mabins’s eligibility was insufficient as to Mabins — i.e., it did not show improper or impermissible recruiting efforts or contact by GHS coaching staff, and did not establish that Mabins’s transfer was for athletic reasons as opposed to his mental well-being as indicated by Mabins’s mother. Instead, Mabins’s transfer was used as a vehicle to present wholly unrelated evidence about GHS’s prior conduct that KHS believed to be improper. And the weight of credible evidence establishes that Mr. Phillips and Mr. Scott intentionally misled MSHSAA in connection with their assertions, and the strength of their assertions, concerning Mabins’s supposed ‘athletic reasons’ and GHS coaching staff’s ‘undue influence’ on Mabins.”
Kickapoo AD took the witness stand
Kickapoo High School Athletic Director Scot Phillips was convinced Kylan Mabins, Kickapoo’s starting quarterback his sophomore and junior years, was poached by Glendale’s football coaches and they were the reason behind Mabins’ transfer to Glendale for his senior year.
On the witness stand this week, Phillips often he said he “felt” Mabins was induced by Glendale coaches to transfer, or that he “believed” Mabins was recruited to go to Glendale.
At one point, C. Brad Tuck, one of three lawyers representing Mabins and his parents, said to Phillips, “So we are back to ‘felt.'”
One possible reason why Phillips believed so strongly Glendale coaches lured Mabins to Glendale is because Kickapoo’s football coach believes it.
Phillips and Kickapoo head football coach Nate Thomas testified in court this week as Mabins and his parents seek a legal remedy that would allow Mabins to play football in a senior season slowly slipping away from him. The Falcons are 3-1 without him.
“Three of my last quarterbacks are now at Glendale,” said Thomas, in his seventh year as the head coach at Kickapoo.
“They are trying to get other players but specialize in quarterbacks,” Thomas said. “My first year, my starting quarterback took the hit (one year of ineligibility) and went to Glendale.”
Dad says his son has been treated differently because he’s Black
On the witness stand, Sean Mabins, the quarterback’s father, said there is a history of high school athletes who play quarterback transferring to Glendale from beyond the Glendale attendance boundaries.
There is one major difference with his son, he said.
“They are white. My son is Black.”
Mabins and his parents say he transferred to Glendale in March 2023 (late in his junior year) for only one reason — to escape what Kylan Mabins considered a “toxic environment” of racial discrimination and homophobic comments created by Kickapoo football coaches.
Sean and Darline Mabins said their son was “spiraling” and despondent during the winter holiday break of his junior year and when they pressed him why, he told them about what he believes to be racial discrimination in the Kickapoo program.
“There were times when I didn’t know if he was going to be OK,” Sean Mabins said.
It should be noted that the parents knew that transferring for athletic reasons would have assured that their son would remain ineligible for 365 days.
Coach Thomas said Mabins was en route to setting career records for passing and touchdowns had he stayed at Kickapoo.
Sean Mabins said that should be proof in itself the transfer was not for athletic reasons.
The formal challenge by Phillips put Mabins and his parents in an uphill battle of proving to the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) that he did not transfer for athletic reasons or because of undue influence by Glendale coaches. A transfer for those reasons is prohibited.
The family went to circuit court to seek a preliminary injunction after losing three times before MSHSAA: first with MSHSAA executive director Jennifer Rukstad; then with a MSHSAA appeals committee; and then Sept. 13 with the MSHSAA Board of Directors.
‘I loved him like he was one of my own’
The two-day hearing in Springfield revealed how close Thomas felt to Mabins and how disappointed he was when an athlete had had worked with for three years transferred.
“I loved him like he was one of my own,” Thomas said from the stand.
“He was a very cerebral quarterback; he was a joy to coach,” Thomas said.
At one point, Thomas was asked if he considered a text message from Kylan Mabins to be rude.
“I am not sure that Kylan has ever been rude to me,” Thomas said.
But when Mabins made it known in early March he was transferring to Glendale, Thomas’ tone with Sean Mabins changed.
Thomas said that when he heard Kylan Mabins might be transferring, he texted and asked if it was true.
Thomas was unaware Mabins had cited the hardship of racial discrimination and homophobic comments by Kickapoo football coaches. Thomas said Kylan Mabins never complained to him about racial discrimination.
Kylan Mabins texted back that yes, it was true, it was “a long story” and he then gave the phone to his father.
Sean Mabins texted the Kickapoo coach at 10:16 a.m. that he and his wife would meet with Thomas in the near future.
It wasn’t until 5:25 p.m that Thomas responded.
“I let it stir and sit, and I was upset because I was losing my quarterback and a kid that I cared about,” Thomas said in court.
Thomas texted back: “There isn’t anything to talk about. Ain’t a thing that can be said at a meeting that is going to smooth this over. That bridge has been burned.”
Sean Mabins replied: “Your text worries me.”
The Mabins contend Kickapoo objected to the transfer because of the reasons given for it and the hurt feelings it caused.
Phillips said in court that his objection to Mabins’ transfer was a rarity. He said that in 11 years as athletic director at Kickapoo, he has seen roughly 150 requests for transfers — including transfers into Kickapoo — and the Mabins transfer is the first he has seen that was challenged for undue influence and/or for athletic purposes.
Two former college quarterbacks at Glendale
The dots line up in a straight line that MSHSAA punished Glendale, as well.
In court, it was stated Glendale had to provide MSHSAA with a plan of correction.
In August, Springfield Public Schools announced that head coach Mike Mauk and his son, Ben Mauk, were no longer football coaches at Glendale. The school district did not give a reason. Mike Mauk took over the program in 2014.
One aspect of this case is well known by those who follow prep football in Missouri. Glendale throws the ball more than almost any other program in the state. Two of the Glendale assistant coaches were once NCAA Division-I college football quarterbacks.
They are two of Mike Mauk’s sons. Maty Mauk quarterbacked at Mizzou and Ben Mauk played at Wake Forest and then at the University of Cincinnati, where he threw 31 touchdown passes in his final season.
Maty Mauk and Jonathan Mauk, another son of Mike Mauk, remain Glendale assistant coaches. Only Mike Mauk and Ben Mauk were removed from their positions on the Falcons coaching staff.
Both Maty and Ben Mauk provide private, one-on-one quarterback instruction to middle school and high school quarterbacks throughout the Ozarks.
Kylan Mabins received instruction from Maty Mauk after Mabins finished his seventh grade football season. After eighth grade, Mabins received instruction from Ben Mauk.
Mabins also received one-on-one instruction from Ben Mauk after he was enrolled at Kickapoo.
This instruction was during Mabins’ freshman year, from December 2020 to March 2021. Mabins reportedly did so with the knowledge and approval of Kickapoo Coach Thomas.
“Ben is an unbelievable quarterback. I wanted to help our quarterback get better,” Thomas said of the coaching.
The one-on-one private coaching by Ben Mauk is not the issue. The issue is that Mabins in March 2023 — two years later — then transferred to Glendale, where Ben Mauk was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
Jay Kirksey, an attorney for Kylan Mabins, raised a question during the court hearing. Does one-on-one coaching from a coach at a different school automatically constitute “inducement” or “undue influence” when it comes to the question of later transfer?
No evidence was presented over two days that anyone in the Mauk family explicitly asked Mabins to transfer to Glendale. There were many documents filed that were not reviewed by Springfield Daily Citizen.
Fairness versus process
Mabins’ attorneys tried to show that Kylan Mabins was treated unfairly while witnesses for SPS and MSHSAA stated they followed their policies with no malice toward Mabins. It was clear over two days that at least part of the evidence of poaching — or “undue influence” — was inaccurate.
Phillips, the Kickapoo athletic director, asked Thomas, the football coach, to gather evidence of how Glendale coaches had lured Mabins to Glendale.
In response, Thomas provided two videos from May of 2021 that purportedly showed Mabins working with Ben Mauk. These videos made their way up the chain to the point where MSHSAA reviewed the matter — three times.
However, Ben Mauk wasn’t in the video. Kirksey presented a letter from a parent who said that the video was of him working out with his son and Mabins on the field at Glendale’s Lowe Stadium.
Rukstad, MSHSAA executive director, in making her decision to uphold Mabins’ ineligibility on July 19 mentions she found the video “evidence” troubling for two reasons. She said they showed Ben Mauk (she had been told it was Ben Mauk) working with Mabins and that Mauk had not officially rented the Glendale field for the training session.
Kirksey pointed out Ben Mauk didn’t rent the field because he wasn’t there.
Rukstad acknowledged in court the evidence was wrong and said she did not believe that Thomas, the Kickapoo coach, provided the videos out of malice or an attempt to deceive.
Mabins’ legal team repeatedly asked SPS witnesses — Phillips, Thomas, Glendale athletic director Isaac Isaia — if any of them took the time to point out to MSHSAA that the video “evidence” submitted was inaccurate.
They said they did not do that.
“You just let fake information permeate throughout the record,” Tuck said.
“That was not my intent,” Phillips responded.
Rukstad said the Mabins family had the opportunity to mention to the MSHSAA appeals committee and later to the MSHSAA board that the evidence was wrong.
Darline Mabins said she did so.
Another error in the evidence was a photo showing Mabins working with Ben Mauk that was dated Aug. 2, 2021. The correct date was a year earlier, 2020, which was the summer before Mabins entered high school.
In fact, the summer after eighth grade, Mabins enrolled at Glendale to transfer. But he never attended Glendale after his parents were informed he could possibly lose a year of sports eligibility.
That summer, Mabins attended football camps at both Kickapoo and Glendale.
Mabins: Focus was on eligibility not allegation of racial discrimination
Mabins’ legal team elicited testimony that SPS and MSHSAA administrators did little or nothing to investigate Mabins’ allegations of racial discrimination and homophobic comments.
Those allegations include, but are not limited to, Kylan Mabins saying that after he lost a footrace to a white quarterback a coach told him, “I thought Black guys were supposed to be fast.”
Mabins also said Luke Miller, one of the Kickapoo football coaches, once told Mabins he needed to throw the ball to more than one main receiver. The coach made this point, according to Mabins, by asking if he and the favored receiver were “lovers.”
Sept. 19 in court, it was disclosed that the parents of the other Black player complained to the school district, too. The other player, according to testimony, immediately stepped off the field to contact his father to tell him that a football coach had just called him gay and had told Mabins not to throw passes to him.
Miller is no longer a coach at Kickapoo.
SPS employees at various levels testified that they did not investigate the allegation of racial discrimination, because either they didn’t know about it or that they knew but it was not part of the process of handling a challenged transfer request.
Even Isaia, the Glendale athletic director who submitted the Mabins request for transfer — for a hardship — to MSHSAA testified that he copied and pasted what the parents’ wrote about the details of the discrimination without ever reading it.
Isaia said it wasn’t part of his duties in processing requests for transfer to read the reason behind the alleged hardship.
Kirksey asked Rukstad, MSHSAA executive director, how MSHSAA — which has a stated policy against discrimination — could ever know if there was racial discrimination if it never asked anyone about alleged racial discrimination.
“I am not aware of how,” she answered.
SPS says there is an investigation
Ransom Ellis, representing SPS, took issue with Kirksey’s statement as fact that SPS had not bothered to look into Mabins’ allegation of racial discrimination.
Ellis said the school district had hired the St. Louis law firm Mickes O’Toole to investigate. Ellis said Kirksey knew full well the Mabins family was not cooperating with the investigation.
Kirksey said he advised the Mabins not to cooperate.
Darline Mabins said the first message she received from the St. Louis attorney doing the investigation was Aug. 15, a month after the MSHSAA executive director upheld her son’s ineligibility status.
Coach Thomas said he had not been contacted regarding the investigation.
“Who is this attorney representing?” Kirksey asked Darline Mabins.
“Springfield Public Schools,” she said.
Even if declared eligible, no assurance he will play
Several colleges had expressed an interest in Mabins during his junior year, and he has said he has little or no chance of getting a college scholarship offer to play football if he does not play this year.
Even if Mabins regains eligibility, there is no assurance he will play for Glendale.
The Falcons have a quarterback and currently have a winning record.
Second, if Judge Ankrom restores Mabins’ eligibility there is a possibility that — should SPS and/or MSHSAA appeal — a reviewing judge might later overrule Ankrom.
That possibility would make it conceivable that Glendale would later have to forfeit any games in which Mabins played.
Daily Citizen reporter Jackie Rehwald and managing editor Rance Burger contributed to this story.