Friendship Collegiate football team investigated over eligibility questions


Friendship Collegiate, shown during a 2012 game against H.D. Woodson, is the subject of a Public Charter School Board review based on residency and eligibility questions pertaining to four recent transfer students. (Craig Hudson/For The Washington Post)
September 13, 2013

The Public Charter School Board is reviewing the eligibility of four Friendship Collegiate football players after the District of Columbia State Athletic Association raised concerns over the school’s residency documentation and requested an investigation late last month.

DCSAA Executive Director Clark Ray notified Friendship Collegiate Athletic Director Michael Hunter on Aug. 30 about the inadequate documentation of the four players, three of whom submitted “insufficient sworn statements by other primary caregivers,” according to a document obtained by The Post.

All four players named in the document played at schools outside the District in 2012, including two who played at Maryland public schools last fall. Friendship determined the four players were eligible earlier this summer.

The investigation will be conducted by the Public Charter School Board. Ray also requested that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education look into the situation. A charter board spokesperson offered no timetable as to how long an investigation could take.

The implications of an investigation could be far-reaching for the 10th-ranked Knights, who have started the season 2-0 and played in Florida on Friday night against Manatee. The Knights would have to vacate any wins this season should any player be found ineligible after-the-fact, Ray said.

“Some of the [documentation] looked a little bit suspicious to us . . . and when I say suspicious I mean there were some forms that weren’t filled out correctly maybe,” Ray said in a telephone interview. “[Friendship] is its own [local education agency], they’ve made an eligibility determination. So those students therefore can play . . . but if they’re deemed to be found non-residents, then they are in violation of Chapter 27 and they’ll have to forfeit any game in which they’ve [won].”

On Thursday, Public Charter School Board spokeswoman Theola Labbé-DeBose confirmed that the office had received the request and is currently reviewing the matter. Hunter, who traveled with the Knights football team to Florida, also confirmed earlier this week that he had received the notification and that the school had responded by sending more verification paperwork to the DCSAA office.

“[The DCSAA] was basically requesting more information, and our school provided more information, and it’s been cleared up,” Hunter said. “I mean, I don’t know about an investigation. I don’t know if that’s what they’re calling it, [an] investigation. But it required us to send more paperwork for four kids because I believe the Office of the Superintendent didn’t have the paperwork in hand.”

Hunter declined further comment Thursday, and wouldn’t elaborate if the four players would continue to suit up with the investigation underway. An e-mail requesting comment from the Friendship Chief of Staff Kimberly Campbell was not immediately returned. Ray said he received additional documents from Hunter after notifying him of the potential problems, but the request for an investigation was still pursued.

Although the DCSAA does not have the authority to overturn or deny a local education agency’s residency determination, the office requested a closer review of Friendship’s roster in late August. That request stemmed from aninvestigation earlier this year, when the DCSAA found that Knights assistant coach Khenny Wonson influenced a student to transfer to the school for athletic purposes. Wonson was placed on one-year probation for the violation.

A month later, Ballou Coach Jason Lane was hit with the same punishment after the DCSAA found he allowed a Friendship Collegiate student to participate in spring football practices at the public school in Southeast. The DCSAA reviewed Ballou’s eligibility documentation last month as well, Ray said, and no potential infractions were found.

The Public Charter School Board began investigating residency fraud cases for charter schools last fall, the result of the D.C. Council passing the District of Columbia Public Schools and Public Charter School Residency Fraud Prevention Amendment Act of 2012. This marks the first time in its two-year history that the DCSAA has requested an investigation by the PCSB.

“This is the first time we’ve done it, so I don’t know what an investigation entails,” Ray said. “It’s all new to us.”

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