Recruiting high school athletes at issue in case before Supreme Court on Wednesday

A long-running dispute over recruiting high school athletes has reached the Supreme Court, where justices are being asked to decide whether a Tennessee school’s free-speech rights outweigh rules limiting contacts with student athletes.

The case involves Brentwood Academy, a wealthy private school south of Nashville, and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state.

Brentwood Academy sent a letter inviting 12 eighth-graders to attend spring football practice in 1997. The students’ parents already had signed contracts and paid deposits to attend the high school.

The athletic association said the letter violated rules against recruiting high school players, and it hit the school with a $3,000 fine and four years’ probation. School officials unsuccessfully appealed twice before suing.

Arguments scheduled for Wednesday will be the second the Supreme Court has heard in the Brentwood Academy case. In 2001, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of Brentwood, saying the athletic association acted in a quasi-governmental capacity and could be sued.

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the school, saying the letter amounts to protected speech under the First Amendment. If that ruling stands, it would prevent all high school associations from enforcing recruiting rules, say lawyers for the state athletic association.

Brentwood Academy officials say they support rules to prevent giving cash or presents to football recruits. But headmaster Curt Masters, the school’s second since 1997, said the letter was a harmless note to students already signed _ with money paid – to attend the school.

The NCAA, the National School Boards Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations have filed briefs supporting the Tennessee athletic association saying broad powers are needed to protect children by enforcing recruiting rules.

Brentwood Academy has the support of the National Women’s Law Center, which is worried about holding government accountable for gender discrimination, the Association of Christian Schools International and the National Association of Independent Schools.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.