BY ERIN DOHERTY, SPORTS EDITOR
PHOTOS COURTESY OF LUIS FLOR AND LORI MILSTEIN
Two Wilson football players who attend the Lab School of Washington and had been deemed ineligible to play four weeks ago have been reinstated after Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh added their case as an “emergency topic” to Tuesday’s D.C. Council meeting.
Luis Flor and Kasper Tuomala had been banned from Wilson’s roster when it came to light that their parents were paying private school tuition. But Kelly Whittier, director of communications for Cheh, said the presence of the boys at the meeting was convincing.
“They approached councilmembers during breaks to talk about why playing is important to them,” Whittier said. This created a change of heart among the councilmembers, and when voting time came, 13 out of 13 members voted in support of allowing the boys to play.
Now juniors, Flor and Tuomala signed up to play football at Wilson their freshman year because their school does not have a team. Over two seasons with the Tigers, their love and passion for the team grew. “Playing for Wilson has changed my life because the way Wilson teaches us football is another way of teaching us about life,” Flor said.
But this year, those bonds were temporarily broken. During preseason practice in August, Flor and Tuomala learned that their high school football careers were in jeopardy. The two were notified they were no longer allowed to play at Wilson because they were paying tuition at a private school. They’d been mistakenly permitted to play for Wilson in their freshman and sophomore years.
Flor and Tuomala felt the situation was unfair, but they were determined to right it. “I see a lot of players on Wilson who I’m really good friends with, and they get to play and I can’t, due to something that was never my fault,” Flor said before Tuesday’s vote. “It kills me to even watch any sort of football now. DCPS ended my road to success, and I want it back.”
Wilson students also felt for the boys. “I feel really bad about it,” senior Joyce Distinto says. “I know that football is super important to [Luis], so it’s pretty upsetting that he can’t play.”
D.C. law states that when a public school cannot offer students with disabilities a “free and appropriate public education,” those students can enroll in an appropriate private school for free, at taxpayer expense. These students also are allowed to play sports at DCPS if their private school does not offer that sport. But this arrangement does not apply if the students pay their own tuition at the private schools. The fact that Flor and Tuomala played football for Wilson for two years made their case different. On September 23, the DCPS Football Temporary Amendment Act of 2014 declared that on a temporary basis, students attending private schools are allowed “to play on DC Public Schools sports teams when the students have already played with the team for at least two years and live within the school’s boundary.”
Flor and Tuomala were ecstatic to learn that their perseverance paid off. “We deserve it, we have worked so hard to get this, and so have our parents,” Flor said, “our goal now is to go to states.”