Williams wrestles with eligibility

January 19, 1995|By Rick Belz and Chuck Aquisto

Fifth-year senior Chris Williams, 19, wants to wrestle for Hammond High School.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which governs high school sports, says he can't because he participated in two all-star meets after last season.

The MPSSAA permits athletes to compete in one all-star event upon completion of their career eligibility in that sport -- normally in their senior year.

Williams' eligibility became an issue when he didn't graduate last June and then enrolled in three courses in September.

Williams, last season's state Class 1A-2A 152-pound champion, expected to wrestle this winter and was the top-ranked 160-pound wrestler in the Maryland State Wrestling Association's preseason poll.

That poll caught the attention of a wrestling coach who on Nov. 29 notified the state athletic office of an apparent rules violation.

"I didn't know this [all-star] rule existed," Williams said. "I thought everything was in order."

Williams, who already has been turned down for temporary injunctions by two courts, contends that his participation in those all-star meets should be overlooked because he intended to graduate last June.

He was 1 1/2 credits short of graduating, however. And because the county allows a student to make up only one credit in summer school, he says he had no choice but to come back for a fifth year.

"He's not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes," said Bill Smith, Hammond's head coach last season and an assistant this season.

Williams did not wrestle his junior year because he was academically ineligible. That left him, he thought, with an extra year of wrestling eligibility if he became a fifth-year student. He met the state age requirement because he did not turn 19 until after Aug. 31.

"There are other fifth-year wrestlers," Williams said. "The only difference is those two [all-star] meets."

Ned Sparks, MPSSAA executive secretary, said, "One all-star meet was enough to make him ineligible for this season."

Williams also believes he should be allowed to wrestle because he says that athletes in other sports such as track and cross country participate in all-star meets and maintain their eligibility.

But school officials say that those sports are different -- that selection to track and cross country meets is based not on high school accomplishments but on club team accomplishments.

"When a track star who is a junior goes to an invitational meet, he or she can only use times run with their club team to qualify. They cannot use their high school times," said Don Disney, Howard County coordinator of athletics. "Only seniors can use their high school times."

Sparks said: "His [Williams] participation in at least one of the all-star wrestling meets [run by the MSWA] was based on what he did as a high school athlete."

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney and Baltimore City District Court Judge Marvin Steinberg both have turned down Williams' bids for injunctions.

"Judge Steinberg said that the schools have the right to make rules and refused to hear the case's merits," Sparks said. "As long as the rules aren't arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory he said the courts won't interfere."

But Williams will press on in his bid to resume a high school wrestling career that ended last season with him winning county, regional and state championships, and compiling a school-record 35-3 mark.

He plans to ask Steinberg to reconsider the case or pursue an injunction at the next level -- the Court of Special Appeals.

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