Struthers’ Witkowski sues to regain eligibility

In an attempt to be able to participate in athletics during his senior year, Struthers senior Luke Witkowski filed a lawsuit through his attorney Courtney Trimacco against the Ohio High School Athletic Association, its commissioner Dan Ross and Struthers on Friday in the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The complaint contains a temporary restraining order and an injunction to permit Witkowski to compete in the Struthers’ football program after the OHSAA ruled him ineligible under OHSAA Bylaw 4-2-1 or the age-limit bylaw, which rules any student who turns 19 before Aug. 1 to be ineligible to participate in high school sports. Witkowski turned 19 on May 13.

The bylaw has two exceptions to the rule, however, with the second one pertaining to Witkowski’s case. The second exception states the OHSAA comissioner’s office may declare the student eligible if a student repeated any grade from kindergarten to third grade for purely academic and because of this the individual cannot meet the age requirements. The student must also not enjoy a physical or mental advantage, nor show signs of any kind of “redshirting” or academic dishonesty, among other requirements.

The complaint outlined how Witkowski fulfills every requirement for the exception, having been held back in third grade following the 2004-2005 academic year at Byzantine Catholic School in Poland, Ohio. Witkowski and his family immigrated to the United States from Poland on a medical visa for his father, Andrzej, and as Luke had little to no experience with English, the teachers recommended he stay behind one year, according to documentation provided by Witkowski’s attorney.

The OHSAA rejected the application for an exception on March 31 and the subsequent appeal on June 3.

“If Lucasz doesn’t get an exemption the OHSAA has in their bylaws, then nobody would,” Struthers football coach Curt Kuntz said. “We feel pretty confident that the injunction will go through and the judge we feel will definitely favor in Lukasz’s behalf, just going by OHSAA’s bylaws that they already have.”

Representatives from the OHSAA couldn’t be reached for comment, but in a letter explaining the OHSAA’s decision to Roger Day, principal at Struthers High School, as a part of the court documents, associate commissioner Dr. Deborah Moore explained Witkowski didn’t meet the “competitive equity” requirement, having accumulated 1,200 yards as a Wildcat running back last season.

Witkowski and his attorney argue that Witkowski was more a product of a system last season that involved nine senior starters, including five on the offensive line. Also, at 5 feet, 11 inches and 159 pounds, Witkowski has no physical advantage over other high school players.

“To say that he was the reason for all his success is kind of short-changing the game of football and the team aspect and the unbelievable talent we had around him allowed him to have some decent statistics,” Kuntz said. “Without the other nine seniors that we had on offense that were two- to three-year starters, his statistics would have half to a third of what they were.”

Struthers superintendent Joseph Nohra was unavailable for comment.