ON THE PREP PATH / BARBIE LUDOVISE : As Pawn in School Eligibility Battle, Athlete Had Most to Lose

After nearly three hours of allegations, testimony and emotional debate, the Ryan Filbeck appeal hearing came to a close Thursday afternoon at the Southern Section office in Cerritos.

Next stop . . . Geraldo?

Why not? The Filbeck case is at least as interesting as “Outside Linebackers Who Wear Lace!” or whatever weirdness Geraldo plans to expose next.

Some background:

Ryan Filbeck, an 18-year-old senior pitcher, transferred from El Toro to Esperanza in February. Ryan said he moved to Anaheim to live with his father, Leon Filbeck, after his parents divorced in January.


This month, Ryan applied for immediate eligibility under a section hardship rule that allows a transfer eligibility if a “non-athletic burden” is involved. In Ryan’s case, that would be his parents’ divorce.

But El Toro officials cried foul. They charged Leon Filbeck, upset that his son was not getting enough time on the mound last season, began “shopping schools"--looking for the school that would best suit his son’s athletic interests--as far back as last summer.

Convinced the Filbecks’ move was made purely for athletic reasons, section Commissioner Stan Thomas denied Filbeck’s eligibility.

The Filbecks appealed.

The appeal hearing was granted.

Now on with the show, one in a series of high school sport soap operas that always seem to end up in court.

Thursday morning, representatives from both sides took their seats at the large oval table in a conference room. Three members of the section’s Executive Committee were at one end of the table. Committee President Tom Jacobson started the proceedings, asking each side to state its case.

“The concern we have boils down to one thing,” El Toro Principal Don Martin told the panel. “Was this transfer precipitated because of athletics or family strife?”

Before coming to a conclusion, the committee listened and sorted through testimony ranging from important to ridiculous. Most ridiculous, though, is that these kinds of cases have to be heard in the first place.

Ryan Filbeck should have been in school Thursday. Instead, he sat at a table looking glum as his father and attorney took turns arguing their points. During the few times he spoke, Ryan said all he wanted to do was play ball. His father probably didn’t hear him. He was too busy playing hardball with the Executive Committee.

A few excerpts from Thursday’s testimony:

--The Filbecks met Esperanza baseball Coach Mike Curran at a graduation and pool party last June. The party was at the home of Esperanza football Coach Gary Meeks, who assists Curran in the spring. The Filbecks say they were there on a social invitation only--Leon Filbeck has known Meeks for nearly 30 years--and that baseball wasn’t discussed.

Jacobson said later he found it difficult to believe that two men so interested in baseball would not discuss the subject. Especially after Leon Filbeck said he had noticed the 4-A championship ring on Curran’s finger at the party.

--Leon Filbeck had a telephone discussion with Mater Dei baseball Coach Bob Ickes about what it would take for Ryan to transfer to another school. Although Ickes said by telephone that Filbeck had been speaking in hypothetical terms, the conversation suggested to the committee that Filbeck was “shopping.”

--Leon Filbeck said he moved to Anaheim to be closer to his ailing mother, who lives in Norco. He also said he chose Anaheim because he could not find affordable housing in El Toro.

Jacobson said neither reason seemed satisfactory, that El Toro offered affordable housing, too.

--Ryan’s mother, Nanette Filbeck, told the committee that Ryan chose to live with his father because it was the best thing for him overall, sports aside, at the time.

--Ryan Filbeck was asked by a committee member why he would leave El Toro High midway through his senior year to live with his father.

“It’s just that my dad will help me pick a college (or) maybe get some scouts (out to watch him play),” he said.

Unfortunately for Ryan, this kind of connection between sports and the move was exactly what the hearing was about.

--Leon Filbeck read his testimony from a prepared statement, stopping a few times as though he wasn’t sure exactly what he had written. He said he is not a pushy father.

Finally, Filbeck’s attorney, Kevin McDermott--who employs Leon Filbeck as an investigator--took the hearing through an “L.A. Law” turn with a dramatic closing speech.

You could almost hear the stomachs churn.

McDermott’s plea ended with a request that the committee have pity on Ryan, “the real victim” in all of this.

The appeal was denied. But no one denied that Ryan was the victim.

Barbie Ludovise’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626 or calling 966-5847.