Martinsburg senior quarterback Malique Watkins was ruled ineligible by the WVSSAC on Monday. Watkins has been far and away the most dynamic weapon for the Bulldogs this season.
However a court injunction allowed the senior to take part in Martinsburg's crucial victory over rival Morgantown last Friday night. The Bulldogs won that game by a single touchdown, 28-21, and Watkins played a monumental role in the outcome of the contest.
The WVSSAC came to its conclusion after basing its ruling on the following: "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." The rule is W.V.C.S.R 127-2-5.3.a in the WVSSAC eligibility handbook.
The rule is substantial in order to even out the rest of the playing field in high school athletics. What it does is prevent student athletes from gaining a year of athletic advantage thanks to an additional year of physical maturity. Conversely, student athletes will remain eligible if one was held back for something such as academic failure.
During the 2008-2009 academic year, Watkins was an eighth grader at North Middle School in Berkeley County. He received 'C' and 'D' grades during that year. However the very next year, his parents decided to transfer their son to Saint James in Maryland. This is where the dilemma comes in to play. Saint James is 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 Saint James for the 2009-2010 school year. He then returned to school for the 2010-2011 school year as a ninth grader at Hedgesville where he played freshman level sports. After that, he ultimately ended up transferring to Martinsburg.
The WVSSAC was well aware of the possible sanctions earlier in the season, and even sidelined Watkins for the first week of the year. Nonetheless, the SSAC ruled him eligible on September 26th, making him eligible to suit up for the Bulldogs.
Watkins has already tallied more than 700 rushing yards to go with 7 rushing touchdowns so far on the season. His talent has been a monumental reason for Martinsburg's continued dominance this season.
Martinsburg remains in a sticky situation. If they decide to play Watkins with a pending court order, they are at risk of forfeiting all of their games in which he played in. However if the ruling is ultimately overturned, then Watkins will be eligible to play.
The next step is an appeals process and may conclusively be in the hands of the board of directors after that. There is no word on whether Martinsburg will continue to play Watkins in the coming weeks.