The Elkins High School Fighting Tigers will have star running back L.J. Lawrence in the backfield and their seven wins back on the statistics sheet when they take on Lewis County Friday.
On Monday, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission reversed its Oct. 24 ruling that declared Lawrence ineligible to play. The ruling also restored all EHS wins on the season, which the initial ruling had wiped away.
"The WVSSAC deemed that we have an eligible student and all wins were returned," EHS Principal David Fincham said Monday. "We always knew we were right and fighting for the right of a student. We will do anything to protect our students."
On Friday, Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Phares instructed Fincham to place Lawrence back on the eligible roster. Phares told The Inter-Mountain he planned to file complaints with the West Virginia Department of Education and the United States Department of Education if the WVSSAC did not reconsider its ruling. Phares gave the WVSSAC a deadline of noon Monday to reverse the decision or the complaints would be filed.
The WVSSAC issued a news release Monday announcing the ruling reversal, stating that it received an inquiry concerning the eligibility of Lawrence, and in accordance with normal procedure, the commission referred the matter to the EHS administration.
"The school investigated the situation, and initially it was determined that the student athlete was ineligible under the rules of the WVSSAC," WVSSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said in the news release.
"Then the Randolph County Board of Education intervened, reviewed all the facts and determined that under federal law, the student in question is eligible for interscholastic athletic competition."
According to the release, the WVSSAC requested the West Virginia State Board of Education to review the federal law cited by Phares, and concluded that under the facts and circumstances of the case, Lawrence is eligible.
"Elkins High School will not be required to forfeit any football games," the release stated.
"It is our hope that this will bring closure to the eligibility issue regarding a student athlete at Elkins High School," Ray said in the news release.
"We always felt it was a legal eligibility," Fincham said. "We appreciate everyone in the community supporting the team. We never wavered; we felt we were doing the right thing for our school, team and community."
An injunction was filed Friday in Randolph County Circuit Court seeking to have Lawrence's eligibility restored. Lawrence's attorney, Lori Gray of Elkins, told The Inter-Mountain Monday that the injunction will now be dropped.
"I received a call from a lawyer for the SSAC this morning," Gray said. "When we get something in writing, then I will certainly file the appropriate document to dismiss the injunction." A hearing had been set in the case for the this Friday, just hours before the Tigers face Lewis County on the field.
Both the injunction and the complaints Phares had planned to file were based on the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which guarantees that homeless youth have equal access to school activities, including athletics.
Phares said when Lawrence moved to Elkins this year, Fincham and school counselors alerted Lynn Proudfoot, Randolph County Schools director of attendance, that the student met the requirements to be considered homeless.
The WVSSAC "did not consider the McKinney-Vento Act" in the investigation and initial ruling, Phares said last week.
Ray said last week the investigation was prompted by a complaint submitted from a resident in a neighboring county, but declined to name the person who wrote the letter.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Inter-Mountain, the WVSSAC released the complaint letter, but edited out all names and addresses.