Principal Refuses to Let a Homeless Teen Play Football After Being Offered Scholarship

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A Washington community is baffled after a high school principal refused to let a student play football because of residency and eligibility.

Jamal Speaks, 18, is currently a senior at Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy and plays football for Ballou High School. The student used to play for Ballou’s varsity team the “Knights” during his freshman and sophomore years before he was abruptly removed from the team because of residency issues.

Jamal Speaks
(photo credit: WJLA screenshot)

Speaks is currently homeless and stays with friends from time to time. The student’s father is deceased and his mother is no longer present in his life. However, he’s fighting to get back on the football field after Ballou High School Principal Willie Jackson blocked him from playing during a game.

“I’m being told I can’t play by the principal,” Speaks told WJLA. “I don’t know why he telling me I can’t play.”

Speaks was set to participate in Saturday’s football game between Ballou High School and Anacostia High School, but his principal stopped him from stepping on the field. Jackson even threatened to fire Speaks’ football coach Minoso Rodgers if he allowed the teen to play.

The student’s teammates stalled the game by 45 minutes and petitioned the principal’s decision, but Speaks was unfortunately benched.

Football recruiters from Temple University appeared at the game to watch Speaks play, but the student was forbidden to do so. Jackson claimed he prevented Speaks from playing because the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled Speaks ineligible in August.

“I worked so hard on and off the field. Have a good GPA, work in the classroom and outside of school. … I’m homeless,” Speaks told the Washington Post. “So me just trying to stay in the area to get back and forth from school, it’s already tough.”

However the District of Columbia Public Schools officials said they’re working with the District of Columbia State Athletic Association to resolve the incident and said Speaks “is allowed to practice and play with his team.”

Speaks said the DCIAA denied his waiver he submitted to play football for the season. He decided to appeal his case to the DCSAA, and it deemed him eligible to partake in athletics at Ballou High School.

“He wants to go to college, he has a school that’s willing to give him an offer to go to college all he has to do is get on the football field again,” said one local.

Speaks had a face-to-face conversation with Jackson on Sept. 18, and the principal said he supports Speaks fully.

“I just want people to know that he said he wasn’t out to get me. 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,” Speaks said to the newspaper about his principal. “It’s a lot of funny stuff going on. It’s just crazy. I should have been playing football.”

D.C. Councilman Trayon White Sr. noted during a press conference that he’s in the process of trying to help the student with living arrangements. Speaks’ godmother Mia Young confirmed that the teen is in the process looking for housing with White’s help.

Temple University has presented Speaks with a scholarship if he can maintain his grades.

Jackson has yet to comment on benching Speaks. DC officials say the student is allowed to play football for Ballou High School because his school doesn’t have an athletics program.

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