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SIMMONS: It’s time to talk turkey when it comes to out-of-city students

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Mayor Vincent C. Gray is scheduled to kick off Turkey Bowl Week on Monday afternoon at the Verizon Center.

It should leave him telling school officials to step up their game regarding residency enforcement and student athleticism for a sense of fair play.

Imani Diggs certainly thinks so.

A 14-year-old, Imani is upset that her beloved Wilson High School Tigers won't be playing Dunbar for the city's football title on Thanksgiving Day after emerging victorious in the playoffs.

Imani and other students said they have known since Friday that Wilson had to forfeit games because of an ineligible player who lives in Maryland.

D.C. students and their families have been down this road several times this school year.

In the fall, students at H.D. Woodson High lost their football coach, Greg Fuller, who was fired after officials learned a nonresident student played for the Warriors.

About a month ago, the D.C. office of the attorney general filed suit against a Maryland mom for fraudulently claimed D.C. residency. The suit seeks $31,294, the tuition bill for her daughter's attending a D.C. public high school for four years.

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said that he "will continue to investigate and take action against all those who fraudulently avoid paying nonresident tuition," and that his office and officials of the D.C. Public Schools and the office of the state superintendent of education are working together to identify cases in which nonresidents fail to pay tuition at taxpayer expense.

In the Wilson High case, Imani said she doesn't feel cheated out of money as much as disappointed that the adults didn't do their jobs and the student-athlete failed to disclose his residency.

"I feel kind of upset because everybody was looking forward to playing because Wilson hasn't played in a championship game since 1991," said Imani, a cheerleader for the junior varsity team. "I'm not really cheated out of money, but [the ineligible student-athlete] could have said, 'Coach, I live in Maryland.'"

She also said it's not fair that Mr. Fuller was fired at H.D. Woodson.

"He's a good person," she said. "He taught me when I was in [Hardy] Middle School. I think he deserves another opportunity."

She's right.

Residency requirements fall under the purview of bureaucrats and school principals — and they need to step up their game, as the timeline in the Wilson case seemingly proves.

On Oct. 14, police in Prince George's County arrested a 17-year-old suspect in the armed robberies of two University of Maryland students. He was arrested in his Greenbelt home.

On Nov. 10, Wilson beat Anacostia in the playoffs, and late last week school officials confirmed that the 17-year-old had played for Wilson and told the school it must forfeit its 8-3 record.

"After reviewing tapes of games, Wilson High School administration and coaches determined this player played in two league games," according to a D.C. Public Schools statement released Sunday morning. "Due to the player's ineligibility, Wilson will have to forfeit the games when this player was on the field, including two league games. The forfeiture of two league games makes them ineligible for the playoffs and the Turkey Bowl.

"While DCPS regrets any confusion or frustration this may cause, it is important to ensure the integrity and fairness of the game."

That's hardly compensation for Wilson, whose student body and alumni had been overjoyed since Nov. 10, when the Tigers beat Anacostia's Indians 40-20 and ended its drought for a championship spot.

School officials need to get this residency thing right. After all, residency affects far more than athletic programs. It also impacts local and federal funding, truancy and integrity.

Students do not see a sense of fair play.

Game on: Wilson's forfeiture means it will be the mayor's Dunbar Crimson Tide against my Anacostia Indians at Eastern High on Thanksgiving Day.

Good luck to us and a small measure of the same to Mr. Mayor.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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