Woodson Community Rallies behind Fired Coach
Elton Hayes | 10/31/2012, 11:40 a.m.
Allegations of Player's Ineligibility Surfaces
The H.D. Woodson-Ballou Senior High football game had a different feel this year.
While many of the players and fans in the bleachers remained the same, the person who has led the Warriors to multiple championships was noticeably missing from the sidelines. For the first time since 1999, H.D. Woodson head football coach Greg Fuller watched his team cruise to a 38-12 victory against one of its biggest rivals from the stands.
Fuller lost his job as head coach on Oct. 16 after allowing an ineligible athlete - who allegedly lives in Maryland and not the District - to play on the team. Woodson, located in Northeast, forfeited its Sept. 28 victory against Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, because the ineligible player participated in the game. Despite his termination as head coach, Fuller remains on staff as a physical education teacher.
"Basically, it's unfair. [Coach Fuller] wasn't given due process," said Sirraya Grant, 46, whose 16-year-old son plays for Woodson. "They didn't do an investigation before they fired him. But more importantly, coaches never have any input on a player's residence. That comes from the principal or the attendance office."
A sizeable and vocal group of almost 100 Woodson fans made the seven-mile trek to Ballou Senior High School in Southeast on Friday, Oct. 26 for the school's annual game against its East division rival. Fuller attended the game and encouraged his former players before heading to the stands prior to kickoff.
Woodson fans donned black, red and green T-shirts that read, "Reinstate Coach Fuller." Students sported the T-shirts in protests on Oct. 19 and Oct. 23 against the coach's termination.
A source of contention among Woodson and Fuller supporters is that the student in question didn't attend Woodson, but Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Northeast, and therefore, Woodson officials didn't know the player lived in Maryland. Phelps doesn't have a football team so its students are eligible to play on athletic teams at other District public high schools as long as they are District residents and receive District approval.
"This wasn't our fault at Woodson," said Darlene Williams, who has had several grandsons play for Fuller over the past 13 years. "I think that it was Phelps' fault because the child was enrolled there. [Nothing] has been done to Phelps. They sent the student to Woodson with all of the paperwork and it came back as being correct."
The Woodson community isn't backing down.
Williams and other parents, students and athletic supporters traveled to the offices of D.C. Public Schools' athletic director Stephanie Evans the week after Fuller's dismissal and demanded an explanation. However, Williams said the meeting failed to produce satisfactory results.
Former Woodson players also attended last Friday's game. Ian Jackson and Ramsey Henderson played under Fuller for three seasons before graduating in 2011. Both stood in solidarity with the man they look to as a coach and role model.
"Coach Fuller always told us that we're young men first, students second and athletes third," said Henderson, 19, who plays football at Virginia's Norfolk State University. "He was not only a coach to us, but a father figure and a mentor. He supported us on and off the field. He's a great man," said the mass communication major.
Jackson heard of Fuller's firing through a friend. The news shocked him.
"I went to the school to visit him," said Jackson, 20, a general studies student at the University of the District of Columbia. "I told him to keep his head up and that everything is going to be OK. "[Coach Fuller] was like a father figure to me and a mentor. He taught me how to become a young man. He's the reason that I'm currently in college. With him it's education first, then football. "
Jackson also had a few words for Woodson's current players.
"I told them to keep their heads up as well, because they still have a season to play and Coach Fuller would want them to keep playing hard."
Fuller has appealed Evans' decision and he has the full backing of the Woodson football community.
"We hope that he's reinstated very soon," said Grant. "We're going to continue to support and stand behind him."