Mount Vernon senior Woody Wright, whose ineligibility caused his school to forfeit four football games, said yesterday he wasn't aware of the eight-semester rule in Virginia and thought he was eligible to play this semester.
"I went to (District of Columbia's Theodore) Roosevelt in the ninth grade and because I had some family problems didn't go back in that school one day after Christmas," Wright said. "No one from the school even called or came to my house to check on me. I even got a C for a class and I wasn't even there. When I checked on my transcript yesterday and showed my old report card to the people at Roosevelt, they said the computer must have made an error (on the C grade)."
Wright, still hoping for reinstatement as a player at Mount Vernon, said he went to Roosevelt yesterday to get an explanation as to why he was technically still considered a student (that year) if he was not in school.
"I didn't think that (second) semester would count. But I didn't withdraw legally," Wright said. "I was in the ninth grade and didn't know what to do. I just thought they would just drop me off the roll.
"I moved, and the next year, I went to Mount Vernon. Only a few people knew I went to Roosevelt. Coach (Bruce) Patrick didn't know. I didn't even play at Mount Vernon, I don't know why," he said.
"I didn't know anything about the rules (in Virginia). I was really looking forward to having a good year, too. I had done pretty well in my grades at Mount Vernon until this year. But I wasn't worried about it because I knew I could improve them."
The ineligibility ruling now leaves Mount Vernon, the defending Virginia AAA state football champion, ranked seventh in The Washington Post weekly poll with a 4-1 record last week, with an 0-5 mark. It marked the fourth time in five years that the Fairfax school has been penalized for using ineligible players.
Mount Vernon Principal Thomas Hyer was out of town and unavailable for comment.
"Whatever procedures they use there obviously isn't good enough," said T.C. Williams Coach Glenn Furman. "It's an embarrassing situation. Nothing like that would happen here. Four times in five years . . . something like that affects other people and the administration is responsible."
Fort Hunt Coach Frank Creneti, whose team plays Mount Vernon Friday night in the game that should go a long way toward deciding the Gunston District title, said it's an unfortunate situation because Patrick is a "straight guy."
"He could have kept quiet about the whole thing but he reported it himself," Creneti said. "That alone shows character. It's something that could happen very easily."
Other coaches said monitoring players' grades, residences and the many other rules governing eligibility is tough and mistakes do happen.
"The only reason so much is made of this mistake is because it's Mount Vernon and they've been here before," said one coach. "It seems when they're not winning, they're in the news for something like this."
Despite the forfeits, Mount Vernon still can win the Gunston District title.
"Fortunately, our first district game is Friday night against Fort Hunt. The kids have been advised of what happened and have put it behind them," Patrick said. "Our concern for our kids is genuine and evidenced by the fact that we were doing research on Woody to help him."
Patrick said he was looking through Wright's folder and discovered where Wright had repeated the ninth grade, thus using up his eligibility after his junior season. According to Virginia High School League rules, a player has eight semesters (ninth-12th grades) to complete his or her athletic eligibility.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Wright rushed for 600 yards and had 10 touchdowns in the five games.