An Elkins High School football player who was ruled ineligible by the Secondary School Activities Commission last week has been reinstated by the state's governing body for extracurricular activities.
Elkins senior L.J. Lawrence, the Tigers' leading rusher, transferred to Randolph County's largest high school last summer. A parent of a player at a rival school filed a complaint with the SSAC last week, and the governing body ruled Lawrence ineligible.
Elkins, whose record stood at 7-2 at the time, was stripped of its wins for the use of an ineligible player. Since the Tigers were ranked eighth in the SSAC Class AAA playoff ratings, the decision threw the postseason race into upheaval. This is the final week of the football regular season, and the playoffs are scheduled to begin Nov. 9.
However, Randolph County Superintendent Dr. James Phares argued that Lawrence was protected under the McKinney-Vento Act of 2002. That federal law set guidelines for public schools in the pursuit of providing better educational opportunities to homeless students.
Lawrence, who lives with his grandmother in Elkins, is classified as a homeless student, and thus should be protected by the act, which requires governing bodies of athletic competition to remove barriers from participation from such students. Such barriers include attendance requirements.
The SSAC had no provisions set in its bylaws to accommodate the act. This led to a quick turnaround of policy by the organization over the weekend.
"We had a lot of people working on it to bring some closure to it," SSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said in a phone call Monday afternoon.
Lawrence obtained legal representation for attorney Lori Gray, and a hearing was set for Friday seeking a preliminary injunction that would have temporarily allowed Lawrence to play. He had been reinstated to the football team late last week by Elkins Principal Dave Finchum, although the Tigers were idle.
That hearing is now unnecessary.
The SSAC also released a statement regarding the issue Monday, citing the involvement of the state board of education in finding resolution to the issue.
"At the request of this office, the West Virginia State Board of Education reviewed the federal law cited by the Randolph County Superintendent, and concluded that under these particular facts and circumstances of this case, the student athlete in question is eligible for interscholastic athletic competition in West Virginia because of federal law," the SSAC said.
"Accordingly, the student athlete in question is eligible. Elkins High School will not be required to forfeit any football games."
Elkins finishes its regular season Friday with a home game against Class AAA No. 16 Lewis County (7-2).