As fall high school athletic seasons begin their early practice schedules, the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year also marks the start of a new WIAA regulations concerning eligibility.
Under a new rule approved this summer, any student who is charged with a felony – not convicted, simply charged – will be immediately rendered ineligible to compete in athletics until they have completed the entire legal system process — trial and sentence, including any probation.
The rule, under Training and Conduct Section C of the WIAA rules, states that “Any student charged and/or convicted of a felony shall, upon the filing of felony charges, become ineligible for all further participation until the student has paid his/her debt to society and the courts consider the sentence served (including probation, community service, etc).”
The wording of the rule seems to presume that even being charged with a felony implies a “debt to society.” In theory, a student could be falsely charged with a felony and be immediately ineligible. They may miss huge chunks of or an entire season while fighting those charges. If they are ultimately found to be innocent in a court of law, they still had to sit out that entire amount of time.
So, again, the kid is ineligible as soon as any felony charge is brought regardless of its ultimate validity in a court of law, and irrespective of whether a kid will be found guilty of such charges.
A WIAA spokesman said the new policy is a direct response to outcry from some in the WIAA about Milwaukee Washington basketball standout Deontay Long, who was convicted of armed robbery and being a party to a crime from an incident in 2017.
“Most recently, a Milwaukee Washington student-athlete had the court date pushed back and was able to participate,” WIAA spokesman Todd Clarke told Madison365. “The felony thing goes back to that Milwaukee Washington case. It was a basketball player from Washington that was convicted of a felony and fulfilled the necessary code of conduct violation requirements that the school had and was then eligible. So then the question is ‘Why is this person eligible?’ and that’s when the discussion started. The thought of the membership was there needed to be greater circumstance for greater crimes.”
On April 20, 2018, Long received a stayed prison sentence and was given 5 years of probation and 1 year in the House of Correction, 6 months of which had to be served immediately and 6 months of which would include release for school. Ultimately, the Court decided to permanently stay the second 6 months, On January 30, 2018, Deontay Long had a plea hearing in which the Court ruled that if Milwaukee Washington were to make it to the WIAA State Playoffs, Long could participate.
And participate he did. As one of the best players in the state, Long dominated tournament play and, in the Division 2 State semifinals he helped Milwaukee Washington overcome the second-ranked team in the state, LaCrosse Central.
Long had 14 points and 8 rebounds as the Purgolders of Washington defeated LaCrosse Central 70-58 before falling in the State Championship game to Kaukauna.
Fast forward a year to March 15, 2019. As part of his sentence, Long faced the possibility of having to spend the second stint of six months in the House of Correction. By this time, it was well known that he had pled guilty to the armed robbery and spent time in jail. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had written a series of articles about him. But the court date to decide whether he would have to serve that second six-month stint was scheduled for after the March WIAA State Tournament would be concluded and Long, still with the team, again dominated tournament play.
Yet again Milwaukee Washington faced LaCrosse Central in the State Semifinals. And again, Long was sensational with 10 points and 10 rebounds helping the Purgolders defeat Central, this time by a score of 72-71 in overtime. Washington ultimately lost the state championship game to Glendale Nicolet.
Twice, Deontay Long had led his team to the state championship game and both times denied LaCrosse Central in bitter final four contests. After the 2019 state tournament, the WIAA told CBS58 in Milwaukee that several member schools were angry that a kid who had pled guilty to armed robbery was allowed to lead his team to tournament glory.
At that time there was a proposal to ban anyone convicted of a felony from WIAA Tournament play permanently. But ultimately, the WIAA decided to render ineligible anyone who was charged with a felony, so opposing teams would not have to wait until an actual conviction.
As for Deontay Long, he has continued to better himself and distance himself from the armed robbery incident. After the State Tournament, at the pushed-back court date Todd Clarke referred to, the Court decided to permanently stay the remaining 6 months of jail for Deontay Long.
Despite all the ups and downs of his life since the 2017 incident, Long was able to graduate on time with his class in 2019.
Long will now take his talents to Grambling State, an HBCU in Louisiana. Grambling State is coached by former Milwaukee Washington standout Donte Jackson and Long will be a preferred walk-on during the 2019-20 season in hopes of earning a full scholarship.