OHSAA: Walker ineligible
BY TOM GROESCHEN | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
North College Hill basketball star Bill Walker has exhausted his eligibility and cannot play his 2006-07 senior season at North College Hill, Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Dan Ross announced today.
The ruling means Walker cannot return to help NCH try for a third consecutive Ohio Division III championship this coming season. Walker, a 6-foot-6 forward rated the nation’s No. 2 senior-to-be (behind teammate O.J. Mayo) by Rivals.com, averaged 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds a game last season.
“You feel terrible any time this kind of situation occurs,” Ross said. “You feel bad for Bill, his family, the team, the players and coaches and fans. At the same time, we have to ensure everyone is competing on an equal playing field.”
Ross said Walker’s mother told him the family might appeal the ruling, but NCH principal Kelly Hughes issued a statement supporting the OHSAA verdict.
“The documentation the OHSAA recently shared with us indicates Bill completed two semesters of eligibility prior to his arrival at NCH, and, obviously, he has completed six semesters while at our school,” Hughes said.
“While we are sad and disappointed for Bill, his teammates and our community, we have the utmost respect for the OHSAA and commissioner Ross and believe the ruling was made accurately based on the information they have received.”
The OHSAA had been investigating whether Walker had exhausted his eligibility, based on a ninth-grade year at Rose Hill Christian in Ashland, Ky., in the 2002-03 school year.
Walker was listed as a freshman at Rose Hill during two semesters of the 2002-03 season, but was put back in the eighth grade upon transferring to North College Hill in February 2003.
NCH believed Walker had still not completed the eighth grade at that time, but subsequent investigations into all the paperwork determined Walker indeed was a freshman for the 2002-03 school year.
He since attended six semesters at NCH (2003-04 season through 2005-06), and is thus ineligible to play any more prep sports in Ohio.
OHSAA bylaws stipulate that a student-athlete has eight semesters to participate in athletics, from the time a student begins ninth grade.
Walker’s plans are unknown, as neither he nor any family members were immediately available to comment. Walker finished playing in the Reebok ABCD summer camp Sunday in Teaneck, N.J., and was believed to be in the process of returning to Cincinnati on Monday.
It is believed Walker might explore attending a fifth-year prep school in the 2006-07 season, then head to college for the 2007-08 season.
Mayo and Walker have been teammates since their elemenatry school days and had talked of winning a third straight Ohio championship next March. Mayo is a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 28.6 points a game last season and repeated as Ohio Mr. Basketball.
Mayo’s mother, Alisha Mayo, said today she knew of Walker’s status but said she believed O.J. would return to NCH.
“The plans haven’t changed,” Ms. Mayo said.
Dwaine Barnes, the AAU coach and family spokesman for Walker and Mayo, has not returned calls seeking comment. NCH coach Jamie Mahaffey also has not been available to comment in recent days.
According to Rose Hill Christian, Walker was considered a ninth-grader when he transferred from Rose Hill to the NCH district in February 2003.
But Walker was enrolled by NCH as an eighth-grader, and administrators believed he would be eligible to play four years of varsity basketball (2003-04 season through 2006-07).
NCH athletic director Joe Nickel said recently that his school believed Walker was an eighth-grader when he enrolled at NCH in February 2003. A closer look:
-Walker has switched schools several times since he was in sixth grade, including -according to Nickel - a stint as a seventh-grader at Marva Collins Preparatory School in Cincinnati.
-Walker also attended Rose Hill (as a sixth-grader, then as a ninth-grader), St. Joseph’s Central Catholic (Huntington, W. Va.) and North College Hill.
-Walker began the 2002-03 school year at St. Joseph Central Catholic, which has grades 7-12. Patrick Finneran, St. Joseph principal, said Walker was enrolled as an eighth-grader to start the 2002-03 school year.
“That was before we got his official transcript,” Finneran said recently. “When the official transcript came, he had already left. Before the question was answered about what grade he should be in, he went to Rose Hill.”
Walker went to Rose Hill in October 2002. Dr. Randy Douglas, superintendent at Rose Hill, said Walker was listed as a freshman upon arrival.
“He was a ninth-grader when he enrolled here, and he was a ninth-grader when he left here," Douglas said recently. “All of our records indicate that.”
Walker played in 16 varsity basketball games as a freshman at Rose Hill from Dec. 3, 2002, to Jan. 25, 2003.
Jeff Hall, Mayo’s and Walker’s coach at Rose Hill, said that in late January of that season, Walker’s AAU coach, Barnes, insisted Walker be placed back in eighth grade.
Mayo was in eighth grade in the 2002-03 season at Rose Hill, also playing varsity basketball. (Kentucky high school bylaws permit students to play varsity sports before ninth grade, whereas Ohio bylaws require a varsity athlete to be at least a ninth-grader.)
According to Hall, when Rose Hill would not put Walker back in eighth grade, his family/advisers withdrew him from the school.
“I hate it for Bill,” Hall said today, after learning of the OHSAA ruling. “At the same time, this doesn’t shock me. I wish him the best but I don’t know what his options would be. Now he’s possibly moving to another school, and that’s not healthy.”
Walker came to North College Hill in February 2003 and was placed in the NCH middle school, in eighth grade. Mayo followed Walker to NCH in April 2003 and also enrolled in eighth grade.
Regarding Walker, Nickel said NCH at the time (2003) had no records that indicated he had completed eighth grade. NCH believed that since Walker began the year in eighth grade at St. Joseph’s, Walker could be placed in eighth grade at NCH.
“Our school administration was under the impression, when Bill came here, that he had not finished the eighth grade,” Nickel said recently.
Questions about Walker’s eligibility arose over the past winter.
“We received a phone call and started looking into it,” Ross said. “I’m sure when Bill came to North College Hill, they (NCH) were not aware of his participation as a ninth-grader. When that came to light, I think they were as surprised as we were.”
OHSAA bylaw 4-3-4, Enrollment and Attendance, says that, “After a student completes the eighth grade … the student shall be eligible for a period not to exceed eight semsters taken in order of attendance, whether the student participates or not.”