Niskayuna High School football player Dahvion Wimberly hopes to hit the ground running when preseason practice begins Monday, but to do so he’ll first have to prevail on a different field of play.
Wimberly, a star wide receiver for the Silver Warriors, is going to court Friday after Section II denied an application to extend the 17-year-old’s eligibility.
Questions regarding Wimberly’s eligibility stem from when he started his high school sports career and the year of football competition he missed due to pandemic-related reasons.
The family of the Niskayuna standout has filed a court petition against the Niskayuna Central School District and Section II to grant him eligibility for the coming football season, and a hearing is set for Friday seeking an injunction that would allow him to begin practicing when the preseason opens Monday.
The petition was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Schenectady County on behalf of Dahvion Wimberly, a 2021 Daily Gazette First-Team All-Area performer at wide receiver, by his father, Devon Wimberly.
“All we’re looking for is an opportunity to get him on the field,” said attorney Tim Brennan, who is representing the Wimberlys in the matter.
According to the court filing, Dahvion Wimberly entered high school in the 2018-19 academic year and played two years of junior varsity football. Then, for the 2020-21 school year, he transferred to Albany Academy amid the COVID-19 pandemic for a reason the filing described as “two-fold” — to allow Wimberly to reclassify and repeat his sophomore year to address his “academic struggles and improve his standing as a student,” and because Albany Academy offered a more intensive distance learning program and a likely quicker return to in-person classes than Niskayuna due to smaller class sizes.
During Wimberly’s year at Albany Academy, the school did not compete in football. While Section II held a shortened football season during the spring, Albany Academy’s football program is a member of the New England Prep School Athletic Council and did not take the field during the 2020-21 school year due to pandemic restrictions.
The loss of that season is at the crux of the issue, Brennan said.
“A year of competition means that you played the game. He didn’t,” Brennan said. “There were no games played at all at Albany Academy.”
Wimberly transferred back to Niskayuna as a junior in the 2021-22 school year and was an impact player in his first varsity football season, catching 50 passes for 732 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brennan alleged that Section II has asked for Wimberly to pay a bond should the injunction be granted, “to protect them against the costs of coaches, referees, uniforms and administrative costs that are associated with having a football season,” and that a topic of discussion included whether Wimberly would be able to make the team.
“He’s an all-Section II performer,” Brennan said. “I think I’ve established that if Section II only had a single team, that he could’ve made it.”
According to the filing, Wimberly was advised by Niskayuna officials that, since he repeated his academic sophomore year, an application for “Extended Eligibility” from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association needed to be submitted to Section II by the district.
That hearing was held June 21, and according to the filing, neither Wimberly nor his parents “were present at this ‘Hearing’ and were not even aware that it was being held.”
Wimberly was then informed by a letter from Section II dated June 21 that he would not be granted eligibility for football during the 2022-23 academic year.
In an email, Section II executive director Ed Dopp confirmed that the Section II Eligibility Committee held a hearing on the matter and ultimately denied the request. Dopp added that an appeal was filed with the state Commissioner of Education, requesting a stay be granted, which was denied by the commissioner’s office.
Dopp said that Section II “follows the language and guidance of the Commissioner of Education’s ‘Duration of Competition’ as it pertains to extended eligibility,” and declined further comment on the pending litigation.
According to the Education Commissioner’s Regulations for Physical Education, a student “shall be eligible for senior high school athletic competition in a sport during each of four consecutive seasons of such sport commencing with the pupil’s entry into the ninth grade and prior to graduation,” and “shall be eligible for interschool competition in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 until the last day of the school year in which he or she attains the age of 19.”
Wimberly is still 17, and will not turn 19 until September 2023.
The regulations allow for extended eligibility for pupils who have not yet attained the age of 19 if “sufficient evidence” is provided to show the section that the student’s failure to enter competition in one or more seasons was caused by “illness, accident, documented social/emotional condition, or documented social/emotional circumstances beyond the control of the pupil.” According to the court filing, Section II held at the June 21 hearing that neither written documentation, nor the presentation by Niskayuna High School principal John Rickert, “provided any supporting evidence” to that effect.
Brennan contended that the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the loss of Albany Academy’s 2020-21 football season fits the bill.
“Illness or social occurrence, if a global pandemic doesn’t fit that definition, what does?” Brennan said. “That’s why he lost the year.”
At the collegiate level, the NCAA provided an extra year of eligibility to all athletes following pandemic-related shutdowns.
Requests for comment from the Wimberly family and officials from the Niskayuna Central School District were not returned.
Niskayuna’s first football game is just two weeks away on Sept. 2 against Washingtonville at UAlbany’s Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.