MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Martinsburg senior quarterback Malique Watkins has been ruled ineligible by the WVSSAC, as a court injunction allowed Watkins to play in this past Friday’s game against Morgantown, a 28-21 win for the Bulldogs.
According to court documents obtained by MetroNews, the SSAC based its ruling upon W.V.C.S.R 127-2-5.3.a, which states: “A student held back one year on sixth, seventh, or eighth grade without failing shall lose the fourth year of eligibility after entering ninth grade.”
Essentially, the rule is in place to prevent students from gaining a year of athletic advantage due to an extra year of physical maturity – students, however, are eligible if they were held back for academic failure.
In 2008-2009, Watkins was an eighth grader at North Middle School in Berkeley County where he received “C” and “D” grades. After that year, his parents decided to transfer Watkins to Saint James in Maryland, a private school. However, after placement testing per Saint James policy, Watkins didn’t qualify for the ninth grade (despite passing the eighth grade level at North Middle School in West Virginia).
Watkins was then placed as an eighth grader at St. James for the 2009-2010 school year. Watkins later returned to school for the 2010-2011 school year as a ninth grader at Hedgesville where he played freshman level sports prior to eventually transferring again to Martinsburg.
The SSAC made Martinsburg aware of the potential conflict prior to week one of the season as Watkins sat that week out. Then, on September 26th, the SSAC ruled Watkins was officially ineligible.
“Our responsibility as an office is to enforce the rules that are provided and handed down to us by our member school principals and individuals that write the rules,” said WVSSAC executive director Gary Ray. “Our job is to apply the rules that are written.”
Ray, though, said there was no clause written in that would take into account a student that didn’t qualify at a school out of state, but did qualify instate.
“There is not,” Ray said. “We look at county policies and or policies of our member private schools in our state and with our middle schools in how they retain students.”
As for moving forward, Ray wouldn’t speculate on how any games would be handled if Watkins continues to play with the court injunction in place.
“We have a forfeiture rule in place that I would have to look at depending on each situation,” Ray said. “We do have a rule that addresses if a student participates under a court order that we would look at and address. I won’t presume and predict what may happen as to what I would or wouldn’t do. Until I have all facts in hand, I won’t make a determination.”
But, whether or not Watkins plays in the coming weeks is still to be determined – the Bulldogs may have to forfeit any wins they get with Watkins playing if the SSAC decision stands.
“The next move would up to the school to go through the appeals process – the next level would be to the board of directors,” Ray said.
A circuit court hearing, though, is already scheduled for permanent injunction relief.
Watkins, meanwhile, has over 700 yards rushing on the year and seven rushing touchdowns, leading a high-powered Martinsburg offense.