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SSAC hopes for quick decision on Elkins eligibilty question

CHARLESTON -- In less than a week, high school football teams and fans around West Virginia will be buzzing about the release of the playoff brackets as the march begins to the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium.

Gary Ray, more than anyone, knows this and doesn't want anything to delay one of the state's biggest sporting events of the year.

So the SSAC's executive director is intent on coming to a quick decision regarding the status of an Elkins football player and the impact that situation has had on the teams chasing playoff spots in the AAA and AA divisions.

"We'll have to move quick, and I know that,'' Ray said Saturday afternoon. "I'm going to make a determination as soon as possible. I'd like to have it done by the release of the ratings on Tuesday, if at all possible, so that it's settled one way or the other.''

The situation was put in motion last week when the SSAC ruled that Elkins senior football player and leading rusher L.J. Lawrence was ineligible because of residency requirements, forcing the 7-2 Tigers to forfeit all their wins, which sent aftershocks throughout the playoff ratings in both AAA and AA.

Shortly thereafter, though, the situation changed.

Since Lawrence was considered homeless by federal guidelines, it was argued that he should be covered by the government's McKinney-Vento Act, which outlines a course of action for schools to handle the education of homeless students. In that act, state athletic associations are required to remove barriers - such as attendance rules - that prevent homeless students from participating in sports.

Lawrence, who moved to Randolph County over the summer to live with his grandmother, received legal representation. His attorney, Lori Gray, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction on Friday against the SSAC ruling, according to MetroNews.

A judge is set to rule on the matter early this week, perhaps Monday or Tuesday. A hearing on the temporary injunction motion is scheduled for Friday morning.

Ray, however, would prefer to clear up matters before then. The SSAC apparently had no provision for compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act, and has been mulling the situation over the weekend.

"Right now,'' Ray said, "we're in the process of working with our attorney and in the process of working with the State Board of Education, and looking at education laws as well. We want to make sure we're fair to everybody concerned, and taking a hard look at what we have. Additional information has been brought up that we need to look at.

"In the event there are some things that are not covered by our bylaws, we'll have to do what we need to do to be in line with our current law. If that's the case - and we're researching it now - as far as our bylaws, we'll rework those if necessary, but it doesn't happen immediately.''

Ray doesn't want to continue, as was done this week, with fans looking at two different sets of playoff ratings - one including the Elkins forfeits, and one without. He said he feels no deadline pressure to come to a decision before the legal system steps in.

"I hate for things to come up when we're near the end [of the season],'' he said, "but we have to handle what's been handed to us.

"At this time, we're not looking at the legal angles. We're looking at making sure I'm comfortable we are in line with the correct laws that are out there. We haven't been in court yet. I'm more concerned with the other aspects to deal with first. I'm not sitting on things. I want to make a determination, to see if I can get it done.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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