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Attorneys: Court overrules IHSAA, says Iowa recruit Arland Bruce IV is eligible to play

Matthew Bain
Des Moines Register

After missing the first five weeks of Iowa high school football, University of Iowa recruit Arland Bruce IV has been ruled eligible to play at Ankeny, his attorneys told the Register on Thursday.

Following a Tuesday morning hearing, the administrative law judge for the state Department of Inspections and Appeals overruled the Iowa High School Athletic Association's decision before the season began to deem Bruce ineligible. The head of the Department of Education signed off on the ruling.

IHSAA Executive Director Tom Keating told the Register the association fully accepts the judge's ruling.

"A decision has been made. That’s why the process is in place," he said.

Keating said the association will look into the judge's ruling to see if this decision should affect what the IHSAA does with other players it has ruled ineligible, including West Des Moines Valley quarterback Jake Rubley (who transferred in from Colorado) and Clear Creek Amana defensive end Mark Gorbatenko (who transferred in from Illinois), whom the association ruled ineligible last week after both had played the first four weeks with their new teams.

Southeast Polk lineman Sean O’Hara, who also transferred in from Illinois, was ruled ineligible before the season began as well.

The IHSAA again ruled Rubley ineligible Thursday following his appeal hearing last Friday morning, Valley head coach Gary Swenson and Rubley's attorney told the Register. 

"This inexplicable ruling comes on the same day as the final ruling was issued in the matter of Arland Bruce IV — in which an administrative law judge universally rejected the same groundless arguments relied upon by the IHSAA to withhold Jake Rubley from varsity football competition," Rubley's attorney, Randy Wilhaber, said in a statement.

"The IHSAA should examine closely its errors described in the Bruce opinion and immediately reverse course on Jake Rubley," Wilhaber continued. "Jake deserves to finish this season with this teammates. We will appeal to the Iowa Department of Education and continue to protect his rights."

Wilhaber, Rubley and the Tigers are hopeful the Bruce ruling helps lead to the IHSAA reversing its ruling on Rubley.

"We (review) every decision, because sometimes even with decisions that uphold our rulings, they give some editorial language that we need to consider," Keating said. "So we’ll dig into this and we’ll see exactly what the judge’s rationale was and then how that impacts everything else."

The IHSAA informed Bruce and his mother, Linda Bruce, on the morning of Aug. 28 that Bruce was ineligible. The association believed the Bruce family to have dual residences, his attorneys told the Register, because Bruce’s two younger brothers still lived with a legal guardian uncle in Kansas while Bruce, who will enroll at Iowa in January, and his mother lived in Ankeny.

That ruling started a long, back-and-forth battle between Bruce and his attorneys and the IHSAA, including a failed appeal and two failed requests for injunctions. The process culminated in the court hearing set by the state Department of Education.

Bruce transferred from Olathe North in Kansas to Ankeny in August after his home county voted to postpone fall high school football because of COVID-19. He was one of many out-of-state transfers who flocked to Iowa to try to play their senior season of football.

Receiver Dale Stout, who also attended Olathe North, transferred to Waukee and has played all five weeks. California defensive back Landon Nelson and Kansas defensive back Trey Krause have been eligible all five weeks for Valley. Illinois lineman Dominic Virelli has played all five weeks for Dowling Catholic.

Christian Boivin, a linebacker from Michigan, transferred to Johnson before eventually returning back home once Michigan voted to resume fall football; the IHSAA had ruled him ineligible at Johnston.

Bruce’s attorneys hope Thursday’s ruling will set a precedent for the other out-of-state transfers battling for eligibility.

"I'm happy for the ruling — most happy for Arland," one of Bruce's attorneys, Travis Burk, told the Register. "And, based on this ruling, I think all the kids that are here with a parent under any circumstance should be eligible immediately. And I hope that's what the athletic association does. We're in unusual times with the global pandemic and all these kids all made moves here, for many reasons, but one, of course, was to play football.

"Representing Arland along with Brad Obermeier was one of the greatest pleasures I've had in my career, because he is such an amazing young man."

Bruce will play Friday night against Johnston.

"I think Arland's going to put up about 400 yards," Burk said with a laugh.

Ankeny High senior tailback/wide receiver and Iowa recruit Arland Bruce IV (14) sits out a second game as the No. 2 Ankeny Hawks compete against the Waukee Warriors in the first half of play during Week 2 of the Class 4A game on Friday, September 4, 2020 at Waukee Stadium.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network.  Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

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