One mom will stop at nothing to make sure her son can play football for Ballou Senior High School for one last season.
Stacy Yarborough believes 18-year-old senior Ray Tyree Yarborough was unjustly declared ineligible by the District of Columbia State Athletic Association [DCSAA] to participate in sports, which she says will hamper his scholarship and collegiate options.
“When we first started this process, I wanted to know if he would be able to play football his last year,” Yarborough said. “They told me the eight-semester rule means the child cannot retain a grade in high school in order for them to play sports, but they said there is a special waiver I could put in.”
Yarborough then inquired about a waiver through DCSAA where she saw that one of the circumstances listed included homelessness.
“Back when my son was in ninth grade we became homeless,” she said. “I lost my job, so I was staying at different people’s houses, so I had to get him to a place until I got myself together.”
The instability throughout the school year led to Tyree having to repeat his freshman year.
“We filed the waiver in March of 2016. I didn’t receive a call from the athletic department until June the 7th. They sent me an email and they said the panel is going to discuss my son’s case on June 9th, and he doesn’t have an advocate, so I asked if I could be his advocate and they said yes.”
On the day of the hearing Yarborough contends that she never received a call as promised.
Clark Ray, DCSAA executive director, said that “for whatever reason there was a misconnection, but before the panel made any decision, I know the chair did connect with the mother and they had a conversation before the panel issued their decision.”
The following Monday she received a letter stating that Tyree was ineligible because he repeated the ninth grade.
“I tried to go for an appeal, but he would not accept the appeal and told me to get a lawyer,” she said. “Why do I need to get a lawyer when all the information you put into the final decision is false? It’s more than just playing ball — it’s an obligation that he has lived up to.
“He has a brother that is deceased and another brother that is incarcerated and these are the things they have been teaching him all this time,” Yarborough said. “They want him to play football, get out of the District, go to college and gain something. He feels as though he’s letting them down. They have worked so hard to move him forward.”
But Ray said the eight-semester limit is no different than rules in most jurisdictions across the country.
“When you enter the ninth grade for the first time, your clock starts running,” he said. “Whether you’re in school or not, it runs consecutively. After those eight semesters are up, you are no longer eligible on the athletic side. The student in question has exhausted his eight-semester eligibility.”
When the request for a waiver came in, Ray assembled a three-person athletic appeals panel that convened via teleconference.
“In our process on the administration side, they have the final decision,” he said. “There is no more appealing internally. They would then have to seek relief from the court system, if they so chose.”
In the meantime, Tyree keeps his spirits high by helping out the team and mentoring freshmen players.
“Sometimes I may cry, but my team still wants me around, so I’ll be around,” he said. “I could play football in other places, but I want to play for this particular school. I have a bond with the team — we are like family.”
As a junior Tyree played wide receiver and free safety. Although he came off the bench last season, he had high hopes for this year.
“After I found out I couldn’t play, I broke out in tears,” he said. “It feels different not being able to play football. I was going to be a starter on both sides of the ball this year. Last year I wasn’t a starter but when I did get in the game I made a difference.”
Yarborough says that whether Tyree plays football or not, he will go to college. For his part, he says he knows exactly where he wants to go.
“I want to go to Saint Augustine’s University in North Carolina. The football team is nice, it’s away from D.C. and my father’s mother lives there, so it’s like another home for me,” he said.
For now, he’ll have to come to terms with the fact that school regulations have likely ended his time in prep football — a reality his mother said is harsh and unfair.
“I asked them, ‘Are you telling me that any child in the District of Columbia, if they fail a grade or repeat a grade that they can’t play sports? Where does it state that?’” she said. “I feel as though if you are a high school student and you have the grade-point average, you should be able to play any sport that you want, and they told me no.”
Successful appeals at the DCSAA are hard to come by, as many District parents have found out.
“We’ve been around for four years and on short-call memory, there may have been one appeal that was approved,” Ray said. “And that was for a student-athlete who had child and family issues from another state. In most cases a waiver, or a hardship waiver, is very hard to get.
“I would tell you that for me the rules are pretty red and blue — I am going to always try to apply them evenly,” he said. “I did not support this waiver because the student-athlete had an opportunity to play for eight semesters already and for whatever reason he was not able to finish his school in that time.
“Athletics is a privilege, it’s not a right,” he said.