Disqualified from Turkey Bowl for Rules Violation
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Athletic Director Stephanie Evans continued her crackdown on rules violations among District high schools when she disqualified Woodrow Wilson High School from play in the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA) varsity football championship.
Wilson parents and players received word of the team's disqualification on Nov. 16. A meeting was called for the following day and the news sent shockwaves through the Wilson community.
"The principal started off the meeting and was very emotional," said Cheri Cooper Harris, whose son, a senior, played on Wilson's football team. "He was holding back tears and basically explained to us that DCPS said that we had an ineligible player and that we were being stripped of playing in the Turkey Bowl championship."
Evans and DCPS officials handed down the disqualification after a former Wilson player was arrested on alleged armed robbery charges in Maryland on October 14. The ensuing police investigation uncovered that the player lives in Maryland, and not the District, making the player ineligible to play for head coach Mark Martin and the Tigers. Wilson, located in Northwest, was forced to forfeit two of its league games that the ineligible player participated in during the regular season.
"The message we are trying to send is that we are going to clean this up," said Evans. "We want there to be a fair playing field. If that means that we take on one school at a time until we clean it up and people get the message of what will and will not be tolerated, then that's what we are going to do."
But Wilson supporters contend that the player does in fact live in the District with his father and grandmother, that he and his family presented documentation on several occasions and that school officials were not given the proper opportunity to present their side to DCPS officials.
Parents from Wilson retained Largo, Md., attorney Cynthia Goode Works to mediate on the school's behalf. Goode Works said that Evans and DCPS officials originally decided not to pursue the issue of the player's ineligibility, but did so at a later date for reasons unknown. Goode Works also said that given additional time, Wilson High School would have filed an injunction on this year's championship game.
"We would have sought a preliminary injunction to stop the Turkey Bowl, but we decided that it was not in the best interest of everyone to go forward," Goode Works said. "DCPS made a decision on Nov. 6 that they would not hear the protest of disqualification. For reasons unclear to anyone here, they decided to go forward with reviewing this disqualification. Sometime between Nov. 6 and Nov. 16, it was resurrected after Stephanie Evans said the protest was [originally] untimely."
Anacostia, which Wilson defeated 40-20 in the DCIAA semifinals on Nov. 10, replaced Wilson in this year's Turkey Bowl and was defeated 12-8 by Dunbar High School. Dunbar, located in Northwest, dealt with its own ineligibility issues last season. Former head coach Ashaa Cherry was fired last year for allowing three ineligible players on the team.
Wilson is the second school in two months to be surrounded by controversy concerning ineligible players. DCPS fired H.D. Woodson head coach Greg Fuller in October after a 13-year career at the Northeast school for allegedly allowing an ineligible player to participate in the team's football games.
Parents like Cooper Harris believe that the biggest losers in situations like Wilson's and Woodson's aren't the schools or coaches.
"Our biggest thing in all of this, is who was ever concerned about our children," she said. "Where is the voice for them?"