Homeless high school football player ruled ineligible because of unverified address

Jamal Speaks. (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

A high school football player was ruled ineligible to play because school officials could not verify his home address.

But Jamal Speaks, an 18-year-old running back from Washington D.C., doesn’t have an address. Speaks, who was set to play in front of Temple University coaches, is homeless.

Last Saturday, Speaks was ready to step onto the field for the first time in two years to play for Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy when the school’s principal, Willie Jackson, said he was not allowed to play.

“I was upset at first, because I had so many people come to see me play,” Speaks said in an interview to the Washington Post. “I worked so hard on and off the field. Have a good GPA, work in the classroom and outside of school. … I’m homeless. So me just trying to stay in the area to get back and forth from school, it’s already tough.”

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time Speaks’ football eligibility was in question because of his homelessness. Two years ago, he was ruled ineligible to attend school in the District of Columbia because his estranged mother was living in Maryland at the time.

After declaring that he was not living with his mother and that his father was deceased, Speaks was able to prove his homelessness and deemed eligible to enroll at Ballou academy.

This time, mixed rulings from two of DC’s athletic groups caused the confusion.

Speaks had asked the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA), the city’s public high school athletic league, to play football earlier this year, but was denied in August.

He appealed to the D.C. State Athletic Association (DCSAA), which oversees all high school sporting events in the District. They deemed him “eligible to participate in athletics at any DCSAA member school, including Ballou” in late August.

Jackson was using the DCIAA ruling when he told Speaks he was ineligible last week.

As of Wednesday, public school officials told the Washington Post that they are still investigating with DCSAA but that Speaks is currently “allowed to practice and play with his team.”

DCSAA Director Clark Ray said that as far as he knew “there were no rules or guidelines Speaks had broken that would have changed his eligibility.”

A city’s support

The Ballou team initially refused to take the field last week when Jackson told Speaks he was ineligible. The players would eventually play 45 minutes later, winning 48-0 without Speaks.

Several people told the Washington Post that Jackson threatened to fire Coach Minoso Rodgers if he put Speaks in the game.

“Jamal, he is a good kid,” said Donnell Milligan, a former Ballou football player. “All he wants to do is play football.”

On Monday, D.C. Councilman Trayon White released a statement that said he was trying to help Speaks secure housing which Mia Young, Speaks’ godmother, confirmed.

Speaks was to meet with the Covenant House, a homeless shelter, to discuss housing options.

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