YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -
A Struthers High School senior took the stand Monday morning, asking a judge to let him continue playing football for the Wildcats.
19-year-old Luke Witkowski told Magistrate Timothy Welsh, "I don't know what I would do if I can't play football. It turned around my life and made me the person that I am today. I made friends."
The attorney for Witkowski went to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court seeking an injunction against the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
OHSAA rules forbid high school students (grades 9-12) who turn 19 years of age prior to August 1, 2014, from taking part in interscholastic athletics.
The lawsuit claims that the OHSAA should consider special circumstances and make an exception for Witkowski, and an attorney representing the Struthers School District agrees. Attorney Ted Roberts says, "We do not believe that simply because this student performed well as a junior prohibits him from playing in his senior year. This is his senior year, he was held back at or prior to the third grade, so he is a legitimate senior. He happens to be 19."
Witkowski's lawyers says the teen’s family came to the United States from Poland when he was 6-years-old and was held back in third grade due to the language and assimilation challenges he faced through no fault of his own.
But the Ohio Athletic Association argues the primary basis for ruling him ineligible at 19 is his athletic maturity and prowess compared to those 18 and under. The OHSAA believes his record on the field last year put him in a different class according to Doctor Deborah Moore, an Associate Commissioner with the OHSAA. "All I can tell you is 1200 yards, that's a significant impact player."
Witkowski rushed for 1200 yards as a junior running back, and was also voted All-Conference.
Testimony is expected to resume next week. In the meantime a temporary restraining order remains in effect.
There has been no decision from the court at this time.