CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The superintendent of Randolph County Schools said the Elkins High School football player declared ineligible to compete should be considered homeless under federal law and, therefore, should be allowed to finish the season.
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission declared on Wednesday the player is ineligible to compete according to the organization's residency requirements.
The SSAC said Elkins must forfeit its seven wins this season as a result. The SSAC requires students who switch schools to sit out 365 days after they relocate, unless they make a legitimate change of residence.
The organization considers students' change of residence legitimate if they live with one or both of their parents, reside with a guardian after their parents' death or are placed in another home by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
But Randolph Superintendent James Phares said the student, who officials will not identify because of student privacy rules, is exempt from those requirements because the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act considers him homeless.
Students living in shelters, teenagers not living at home with their parents and children of families who have temporarily moved in with friends qualify as "homeless," according to that federal legislation.
Phares said the Elkins football player moved to the area from Pennsylvania during the summer because circumstances prevented him from living with his mother and father, forcing him to move in with his grandmother.
While Phares declined to identify the student athlete, the Daily Mail has learned he is senior L.J. Lawrence. The 6-foot, 165-pound running back moved to Randolph County in the summer. Lawrence leads the team with 1,491 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He is not listed on the Tigers' roster posted at the SSAC website. He is listed on the team's roster on MaxPreps.com, but is listed as wearing No. 3. He appears in the team photo wearing No. 8.
"The kid didn't have any other place to live. She took him in. Because of that he met the conditions of the McKinney-Vento Act," Phares said.
The superintendent also said the student would fall under the West Virginia Board of Education's extracurricular anti-discrimination policy.
The board's policy, however, only requires "members of both sexes, regardless of their race, color, religion, handicapping condition, age or national origin" have equal access to extracurricular activities. Homelessness is not specified in that policy.
"To us, it was a no-brainer. But our common sense isn't what the SSAC believes," Phares said.
SSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said the organization sometimes grants eligibility waivers for students who change residences, but only its board of directors has the authority to issue those waivers.
"I have to apply the rules as written," he said.
But Ray said neither Elkins High School nor Randolph County Schools contacted the SSAC about an exception for the athlete.
"They didn't call. If they felt they needed an appeal, we could have discussed that," he said.
Ray said forcing schools to forfeit wins is standard practice when a student is declared ineligible.
"We've had that happen in other areas. It's not something we want to see happen, but the responsibility of this office is to apply and enforce the rules to the best of our ability and be fair to all schools, as much as possible," he said.