Recruit given home to play football

Class of 2019 verbal commit returns to his high school football team after missing two years.

Jamal Speaks is a senior running back for Ballou High School in Washington, D.C. whose football career has been threatened by homelessness. | COURTESY/JAMAL SPEAKS

A Temple University verbal commit, who was homeless, will play his first high school football game in two years on Friday due to a Washington, D.C. athletic regulation that barred him from playing due to residency issues, the player said. 

Senior running back Jamal Speaks, who attends Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy, an alternative school on Ballou High School’s campus, has been homeless during several periods of his high school career. He was not allowed to play football because he did not have a residential address in Washington, D.C. 

After being ruled ineligible in Fall 2016 by the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association, Speaks transferred to a school in Maryland before returning to Ballou in Spring 2018, causing him to miss the football season his junior year. 

Before coming to Ballou High School before his freshman year, Speaks lived in Maryland and was filed under his mother’s address there. He played his freshman season at Ballou and part of his sophomore season before D.C. Public Schools ruled him ineligible. 

Before his junior year ended, Speaks was no longer listed under his mother’s address, and was a homeless student his junior year and would be allowed to attend Ballou High School again. 

Speaks announced on Twitter on May 27 that he received an official scholarship offer to play for the Owls. He said his residency issues won’t affect his scholarship to go to the university.

A Temple football representative declined to comment on Speaks. Per NCAA rules, Temple cannot comment on a recruit until they sign a National Letter of Intent.  

High school athletic programs in Washington D.C. are overseen by two associations — the DCIAA, which first barred Speaks from playing, and the District of Columbia State Athletic Association, which later said the senior was eligible to play. 

The DCIAA handles public school sports, which includes Ballou High School. The DCSAA was formed in 2012 to oversee all public and private high school sports.

Clark Ray, the executive director of the DCSAA, said the association is the “umbrella” of high school sports in D.C. 

“There has been no confusion on our part,” Ray said. “We have the authority. Look at the rules. Look at the law. We acted within the authority and acted within the rules and told [Speaks] he was eligible.”

According to the DCIAA Handbook, to play a sport in one of the district’s public schools, a student must have a proof of residency in the district. Speaks wasn’t able to do that because he was homeless and could not prove district residency.  

Ray said Speaks was eligible to play as a homeless student transfer under DCSAA rules.

The DCIAA has stood by its ruling since making it official that Speaks is ineligible to play high school football in October 2016. 

On Wednesday, Speaks told The Temple News that he will be allowed to play in Ballou High School’s next game on Friday against Roosevelt High School while District of Columbia Public Schools finalizes his residency status.

On Sept. 18, Speaks and Ballou High School Principal Willie Jackson met to discuss what he would have to do to play football this season. Speaks said Jackson wanted the DCIAA or District of Columbia Public Schools to submit an official document saying he is eligible to play.

But Covenant House Greater Washington, an organization that helps young adults ages 18-24 who experience homelessness, stepped in on Wednesday. They helped Speaks obtain a place to live so he can be a resident of the district, making him eligible to play under D.C. public school rules.

The organization’s CEO, Madye Henson, saw the local morning news about Speaks’ story and decided to step in immediately, CHGW manager of communications and marketing Kyle Whitehead told The Temple News. 

They collaborated with Jackson and elected officials, backed by community support, to get Speaks back on the field. The move-in process for Speaks started on Wednesday, and he will be fully moved into a new home within the next few days, Whitehead said.

Speaks found out he was given a place to live when he was getting ready for school on Wednesday.

“I am just so excited to finally be able to play,” Speaks said. “I was so crushed because I couldn’t play. I am happy that the right thing was finally done.”

“The community came together in a time of need,” Whitehead said. “They were really looking for a solution in what can happen and what are [Speaks’] possibilities. And him fitting our demographic of youth and the location, we said we have availability, and it will be a good opportunity for him to have a safe place to call home and be able to focus on his future.”

Speaks will now be living in a housing facility that is within walking distance of Ballou High School, Whitehead said. 

On Wednesday, Speaks launched an online crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe that has raised more than $21,000 — far more than its $5,000-goal.

Speaks said Temple coaches started the recruiting process after he attended a camp on Main Campus in Spring 2018. The Owls’ coaches have shown their support for Speaks, he said, and he expects an in-person visit from Temple coaches by this weekend.

“I just want to show people what I can do,” Speaks said. “Being committed to Temple, I just want to represent my future school as a commit.”

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