DEARBORN — The physical, competitive nature of football leads to several on-field confrontations between players in most games, from the professional level on down to high school action.
|Hamadeh Educational Services Founder and CEO Nawal Hamadeh (left) and Star Academy Assistant Superintendent Ahlam Moughania both say that Star’s side of the story has not been properly considered by police. PHOTO: Nick Meyer/TAAN |
Pushing, shoving and more all become commonplace between the heavily-protected players when emotions run high, leading to penalty flags, ejections and punishments within the rules of the game.
But a familiar-looking scuffle between players from Westland Lutheran High School (LHSA) and Star International Academy (Star) on Friday, October 21, 2011 has led to a different punishment for four Star players, Fanar Al-Alsady, Hadee Attia and Ali Bajjey, Mohamed Ahmed, all age 17, for their roles in the incident.
Video of the entire incident, which happened after the final play, shows that the quarterback was shoved twice.
Officials including Nawal Hamadeh, Founder and CEO of Star, Star Asst. Superintendent Ahlam Moughania, and Arab American Civil Rights League Founder, Michigan civil rights commissioner and attorney Nabih Ayad are all perplexed as to the nature of the charges after seeing the video evidence.
Ayad said that the he plans to file a motion on behalf of the students for dismissal of the case.
“The charges are frivolous and unwarranted,” Ayad said. “They already have rules and regulations for sports activities on how to discipline individuals who act inappropriately, but don't sit there and charge teenagers involved in a football game where emotions are running high.”
The incident began with 21 seconds left on the clock and Westland Lutheran leading 47-6, later reports state that LHSA was preparing to take a knee in order to run out the clock.
Media reports of the Star players punching and kicking the quarterback repeatedly are not corroborated by the full video of the incident.
The case remains under investigation, and Westland Lutheran's athletic director Mike Unger declined to comment on the condition of the quarterback or other details, instead saying he was authorized to release the following: “The incident on October 21st was unfortunate for both schools and for sportsmanship. The incident was reported to the Michigan High School Association that governs athletics in Michigan. No further action was pursued by Lutheran High School Westland.”
MHSAA Communications Director John Johnson said that the matter falls outside of the jurisdiction of the private body and that no official's report was submitted with additional details on the game. Officials' reports are only made for select games, usually when an ejection is involved.
In the case of the Oct. 21 game, camera footage shows the officials seemingly disinterested in the scuffle as they do not step in to break up the players, leading to escalated tensions, another aspect that disappointed Hamadeh and Moughania, who said the incident could have been prevented.
But the handling of the case has been their top concern. Moughania said that parents have expressed great concern and are “dumbfounded” over the vague charges which were shared during students Jan. 11 arraignment. “These are honor students whose college and career options will be jeopardized by such unfounded charges,” she said.
Star officials also said that the investigation showed a clear bias against their school, which has been named one of the nation's best in the past by U.S. News and World Report. Investigator Marty Biek of Dearborn Heights police also was alleged to have called the behavior of the Star students “disgusting” while investigating, which Star officials say shows bias from the onset of the investigation. Biek did not respond to email and phone messages as of press time.
The officials have emailed Mayor Dan Paletko to give their side of the story and contacted police to give their statements on at least three occasions but said those requests were not honored.
Hamadeh said that the original pursuit of felony charges for aggravated assault would never have taken place if the footage had been analyzed, as it clearly shows that the scuffle mostly boiled down to a shoving match between the two teams.
Precedents for a similar case are hard to come by, but a more serious NFL incident involving adult defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth of the Tennessee Titans happened in 2006 when he stomped on the face Andre Gurode of the Dallas Cowboys with metal cleats as a play came to an end. It resulted in a five-game suspension with no criminal charges. Gurode did not file a civil lawsuit despite headaches and blurred vision.
Meanwhile, Hamadeh is highly disappointed in the charges, although she said did not condone the players' actions. Moughania also met with Unger and Steve Schwecke, Westland Lutheran's principal, and showed them the video, saying the Westland officials were surprised and “speechless” as to what they saw.
“The LHSA school was quite surprised Star opened up the dialogue...we're opening the dialogue to build that bridge that was not necessarily solid between the two teams, and I find it quite shocking that the city would step in to fuel the tension with charging these four students,” Moughania said.
Hamadeh stated, "At Star Academy our number one objective is the safety and future of both our students and those of students from other schools who visit our campus. It's just as important to ensure that all parties are treated equally and no one is being targeted unequally by the investigative body."
The ACRL is also monitoring the situation closely according to Executive Director Rashid Baydoun.
“The situation at hand calls for immediate response and that's exactly what ACRL is prepared to do is answer the call of community, we are the response.”
Ayad said that he will continue to fight the charges on behalf of the students.