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 Assn. commissioner Dan Ross announced Monday.
The ruling means Walker - who is considering Kansas State, Florida and other colleges - 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 still had 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).
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.