In a high school football game against the Cameron Dragons in the 1960s, a South Harrison guard came running in from the sidelines. When he reached the huddle, he told his teammates the play relayed from the coach: “screen pass left and throw it out of bounds.”
In the huddle stood South Harrison center Mallory Mayse, now a Columbia lawyer. He and the rest of his teammates became befuddled. They were beating the conference powerhouse 7-0 and marching down the field in Cameron territory.
The quarterback turned from the huddle, looked at his coach and raised his hands above his shoulders, questioning the play. The coach glared back and waved his hands toward the quarterback, confirming the play.
Still puzzled, the team broke from the huddle and lined up on the line of scrimmage. As soon as the quarterback said, “hike,” Mayse snapped the football. His quarterback dropped back a few steps and then hurled the ball to his left and into the stadium’s parking lot.
Swiftly, the South Harrison coach called time out, ran onto the field and questioned the team’s previous play. The quarterback told his coach that the team ran the play that was relayed to them by the guard. The coach responded furiously and said, “screen pass left, and if he’s covered, throw it out of bounds.”
“I learned from that experience that communication is very important,” Mayse said. “Don’t leave out the essential things or it lacks meaning.”
He learned from high school the need for clear communication, a trait he embraces every day as a lawyer, especially when he works with high school athletes while acting as general counsel for the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Born and raised in Bethany, sports were a passion for Mayse early in his childhood. It continued into high school as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track and field.
The study of law also developed at an early age for Mayse. As a child, he often came home and saw his father, a lawyer, researching and preparing for his cases. Mayse admired the dedication and determination of his father and hoped to follow in his footsteps.
“I never remember a time where I wanted to be a fireman or anything else but a lawyer,” Mayse said. “My dad was never heavy handed with me, saying that I need to be a lawyer. It was just something in my DNA.”
It was clear that Mayse would one day combine his passion for sports and his fascination of law into a career. After graduating from the MU in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, he started attending the MU School of Law.
During his final year as a law student in 1973, Mayse received the opportunity to work as a law clerk for Robert Tull, a Columbia lawyer who represented the MSHSAA. Two experiences while working for Tull compelled Mayse to continue working with the association throughout his legal career.
First, Mayse frequently accompanied Tull and MSHSAA executive director Irvin Keller on road trips across the state of Missouri to various conferences, meetings and courtrooms.
To prevent Tull and Keller from tiring before important functions, Mayse often acted as the pair’s driver. With Keller to his side and Tull in the backseat, Mayse listened to the two discuss the synthesis of law and high school athletics. Mayse vividly remembers Keller’s passionate statements about his philosophy of high school athletics.
“Talking with Irvin Keller in those formative years, listening to him on those long road trips explain why an education-based athletic program is so valuable to our students and to the work of our schools, I really was challenged and intrigued by it,” Mayse said.
His second significant experience was the first case he had an opportunity to assist on. It was a high school eligibility case, involving two football players from Lafayette High School in St. Joseph.
Both players had turned 19 before Sept. 1, the cutoff date to be eligible for high school athletics in Missouri, and they sought a restraining order against the MSHSAA to allow them to play in their senior seasons.
Both Tull and Mayse thought the MSHSAA’s rule was fair because it promoted competitive equity and helped ensure safety. Mayse worked with Tull in gathering the facts and rules involved to prepare for the upcoming hearing between the players and the MSHSAA.
At 10 a.m. while the hearing was in progress, the courtroom’s door swung open and several members of the Lafayette football team walked into the courtroom, wearing their shamrock green jerseys. With the courtroom fairly empty, some of the players sauntered toward the jury box and sat down in the box to watch the hearing.
Shortly after, the school’s pep club appeared. Promptly, they sat down in the empty seats in the courtroom behind Mayse and Tull. It just so happened that the hearing coincided with a day off from school for Lafayette. Now, high school students hoping that two of their school’s players would be ruled eligible surrounded Mayse in the courtroom.
At the end of the hearing, the judge ordered the MSHSAA to stop enforcing the age rule, which allowed the football players to continue their season. However, about a month later, the lower court’s order was reviewed and reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court, thus letting the MSHSAA re-enforce the age rule.
For Mayse, who didn’t even have a law license yet, the case’s legal process was an eye-opening episode, from the initial hearing to the overturn of the lower court’s ruling.
“It was a real challenge and a wonderful experience,” he said. “I’ll never forget the courtroom experience being encircled in a sea of green. We did our job, and I think the association benefited from that ruling.”
Though Mayse knew the defense of the age rule was in the best interest of all parties involved, his first case also exposed him to the difficult part of the job: ruling against student-athletes.
In the Lafayette case, both of the players had sympathetic circumstances. They had been held back in school for two years because of childhood illnesses, but both Mayse and Tull needed to keep the safety of the other players involved in mind and couldn’t risk having 19-year-olds playing with 15- and 16-year-olds.
Similar difficult issues continue to arise today in his work. But Mayse says the most difficult cases to contest are when parents become too involved in their children’s sports lives and break MSHSAA rules.
“It’s very tough,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not the student who’s causing the problem, but it’s the student who bares the eligibility problem.”
Though Mayse’s often has to rule against students, he tries to keep the rulings in the best interest of all parties. Even his opposing counsel knows Mayse is just trying to be fair.
“Mal works very diligently to get it right, which is what good attorneys are supposed to do” said attorney Thomas Mickes who has represented schools in some of the cases against Mayse. “I think he pretty much mirrors what I perceive the board’s position to be of enforcing the rules, but at the same time, encourage participation and not unduly punish students.”
While the cases and people change, one characteristic of Mayse is constant: his amicable and caring approach with the adolescents. Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, the current MSHSAA executive director, said he sees Mayse’s compassion whenever they work together.
“Mal does a very good job of talking with them, not being judgmental or derogatory toward them, but just having a conversation with them.” Dr. Urhahn said. “They’re young adults and they need to be treated as such and with respect, and Mal does a very good job of treating them with respect.”
Dr. Urhahn also says where some lawyers will use the “sledge hammer” approach in cases, Mayse never needs to resort to such tactics. His background as a former high school athlete has also helped with his compassionate approach in cases, allowing him to empathize with the athletes.
“It gives him a good understanding of what it’s like to be a high school athlete and the amount of work and determination it takes to be able to be on a team,” Dr. Urhahn said. “Whenever we have to deal with these situations, he can relate to them because he was involved in some of the same rules that were in existence when he was in high school.”
This story is part of a larger project by Vox Magazine, the Missourian, KOMU TV-8 and KBIA to cover conflict and the legal system in Columbia and Boone County.