Despite having an offer to play at Temple University, 18-year-old Washington, D.C. running back Jamal Speaks currently won’t be able to play for his alternative high school, and it’s not because of his grades, injuries, or any of the other factors that typically prevent high school players from taking the field. Instead, it’s because Speaks is homeless, an unavoidable circumstance that has prevented officials at D.C.’s public school system from properly verifying his address.
According to the Washington Post, Speaks, who is enrolled at alternative school Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy, was preparing to play his first football game in close to two years last Saturday when he found out that he was ruled ineligible. This proved to be an unpopular decision among Ballou students and supporters, as Speaks’ teammates reportedly protested the move by refusing to take the field for 45 minutes. It was also alleged that Ballou principal Willie Jackson wanted to take further action by firing coach Minoso Rodgers if he ever allowed Speaks to play a down.
“I was upset at first, because I had so many people come to see me play,” Jamal Speaks told the Washington Post.
“I worked so hard on and off the field. Have a good GPA, work in the classroom and outside of school. … I’m homeless. So me just trying to stay in the area to get back and forth from school, it’s already tough.”
The 18-year-old senior, who has an offer to play football at Temple University, was kicked off the team at a game on Saturday because of the residency question. Jamal Speaks told News4 that his father died and he doesn't speak with his mother. https://t.co/A6ED7zE4H5— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) September 19, 2018
As he is presently estranged from his mother, with his father having died some time ago, Speaks sleeps on the couches of his friends’ houses, as he further related. After missing the last two years or so due to previous residence-related issues, Speaks was allowed to play by the D.C. State Athletic Association (DCSAA) after furnishing enough evidence to prove that he was homeless. However, the Washington Post wrote that the similarly named District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association DCIAA) ruled Speaks ineligible last month, which is why Jackson did not allow him to play. According to the publication, the confusion arose because both organizations both consider themselves as the “ruling authority” with regards to player eligibility.
Commenting on a conversation he had with Jackson on Tuesday, Jamal Speaks said that he needs to provide an official document from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) or the DCIAA, but not the DCSAA, in order to be eligible to play Ballou’s third game, which is scheduled to take place on September 28.
“He wasn’t against me. I don’t think that he was on my side, but, I mean, I don’t know what to think about what he had to do about stuff. It’s a lot of funny stuff going on. It’s just crazy. I should have been playing football.”
Despite the frustration that comes with not being able to play high school football due to a technicality, there appears to be a silver lining for Jamal Speaks. Covenant House spokesman Kyle Whitehead issued a statement to NBC DC’s Shomari Stone, as the reporter tweeted that Speaks was offered residency at Covenant House Greater Washington for the rest of the 2018-19 academic year, which would make him eligible to play for Ballou.