LOCUST GROVE, OK —
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has refused a Locust Grove football player's request to play in an international football competition, the athlete's father said.
Jason Pirtle, a sophomore safety and wide receiver on the Locust Grove football team, was selected to play for a USA Football team in an international competition in February. Pirtle was previously selected as a captain to the Team USA squad for a national competition in July 2013.
His father Mark said the OSSAA informed him Tuesday that Jason would not be granted release to play for Team USA. Mark said that should Jason join Team USA for the games in February, he could be forced to forfeit his last two years of high school eligibility in Oklahoma and Locust Grove could be forced to forfeit every win that Jason played in from its 2013 season.
OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley said Wednesday “none of that is correct.” If Jason decided to play for Team USA, Sheakley said, he may be subject to sanctions, but Sheakley said he did not know what those sanctions might be. He did say, however, that he could never see the OSSAA taking two years of eligibility away from a student athlete.
Sheakley said the school has not broken any rules, and that the eligibility issue comes back to the individual, not Locust Grove.
Jason must declare his intention to play for the national team by Nov. 15 — the weekend of the first round of the Class 3A state football playoffs. The Pirates are currently 8-0.
The rules in question are Rule 16 and Rule 19 in the OSSAA Rulebook.
Rule 16, Section 1.b. states that “an individual who has represented his/her school during the current season shall not participate in football unattached, or as a member of a team for the remainder of the school year.”
Rule 19, Section 2.b. states that “students may only participate in interstate All-Star athletic contests, involving All-Star teams representing different states, after all spring activities are concluded.”
Last year, OSSAA members voted to restrict All-Star game participation to only seniors by a vote of 178 to 104.
Mark Pirtle claims the Team USA international competition does not fall under the “All-Star” umbrella and should not affect Jason's eligibility in OSSAA competition. USA Football is the official football development partner of the National Football League, and the National Governing Body of the sport as recognized by the International Federation of American Football, the NCAA, and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
“I am just sick over this,” Mark said. “Jason worked so hard and just wants to compete and represent his state and country.”
Sheakley said that Jason may go through Locust Grove Public Schools to appeal the OSSAA's decision. Mark Pirtle confirmed that he would be filing an appeal. The next board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 13.
Sheakley clarified that the potential decision on Pirtle does not pertain to last year's eligibility issue at Tahlequah Sequoyah. Sheakley said that it was the team that did not follow Rule 9, which applies to camps and camp payments, and it was the team that was forced to forfeit games.
“We're talking about an individual here,” Sheakley said.
In a March letter from USA Football Director of U.S. National Teams Garrett Shea to Jackson, Garrett said, “USA Football has worked with many state associations to provide athletes with exemptions and/or waivers to existing rules to allow them to represent the United States in international competitions and National Team training programs.”
In a 2007 letter from Damani J. Leech, NCAA director for baseball and football, to USA Football, Leech said no amendment was needed to the NCAA bylaws regarding national teams and their impact on the collegiate eligibility of prospective student-athletes. “[The All-Star bylaw] was not intended to apply to national teams,” Leech wrote.
Note: Updated Wednesday, Oct. 30, 4:04 p.m.