Prep football: SSAC rules Martinsburg quarterback eligible
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Secondary School Activities Commission averted a court battle Monday, confirming the eligibility of Martinsburg High School quarterback Malique Watkins.
Watkins had been ruled ineligible by the SSAC prior to the Bulldogs' 28-21 win against Morgantown on Sept. 27. The senior had continued to play under the protection of a temporary injunction granted that day by the 23rd Circuit Court in Jefferson County.
A subsequent hearing, for permanent injunctive relief, was scheduled for Friday had the SSAC not overturned its initial decision.
"Basically we worked through the process last week when we had an appeal hearing," SSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said Monday afternoon. "I was able to make the decision without the board intervening because I had some confirmation that I didn't have before."
The SSAC's Board of Directors - in the past known as the Board of Appeals - heard Watkins' case last Thursday. A decision was expected the next day, but was delayed until Monday.
Ray and the SSAC embarked on a three-week investigation into Watkins' eligibility at the outset of the regular season after it was reported to the governing body that Watkins had repeated the eighth grade without failing it. Under SSAC rule 127-2-5.3a, a student that is "held back one year in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade without failing shall lose the fourth year of eligibility after entering ninth grade."
Watkins attended North Middle School in Berkeley County as an eighth grader, then transferred to attend St. James School in Hagerstown, Md.
According to the complaint filed on behalf of Watkins on Sept. 27, he received "Cs and Ds" but was not held back by North Middle School.
The complaint continued to explain that when taking entrance testing at St. James - a private school - he was placed in the eighth grade. After one year's attendance at the school his family returned to Berkeley County, where Watkins attended Hedgesville High School. He transferred to Martinsburg prior to his sophomore year.
Ray would neither confirm nor refute reports from various media outlets that stated Watkins had been held back in the eighth grade according to Berkeley County Schools criteria. That information had not previously been mentioned in the process.
"All I can say is that I received some information last week. I felt we did a pretty good job investigating it originally but I received some more detailed information that allowed me to go ahead and confidently make this decision," Ray said.
The executive director hinted that the process could have been handled quicker and more easily had he been supplied with the information in question from the outset.
"We have to rely on the schools and the information they provide us," he said. "We're not trained investigators, so we have to go with what the schools give us."
Watkins has emerged as the focal point in Martinsburg's quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Class AAA state championship for more than his legal issues. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior ranks fourth among Class AAA rushers with 982 yards and nine touchdowns on 134 carries, and has only appeared in six of Martinsburg's eight games. The team held him out of the season opener against H.D. Woodson (D.C.) and against Spring Mills on Oct. 11.
He has completed 36-of-61 passes for 467 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. The Bulldogs (7-1) are ranked second in the latest Daily Mail Class AAA poll and expect to be ranked No. 3 in this week's SSAC Class AAA playoff ratings.
They play host to Jefferson (4-3) on Friday night.
Ray expressed relief that the case had run its course and found resolution.
"I'll never say it's all over until it's all over, but we like to focus on the positive as much as possible," he said. "We want everybody to be able to enjoy the season."
The high school football playoffs begin Nov. 15.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.