Minnehaha Academy football star prepares appeal after ruled ineligible due to repeated grade

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A heavily recruited high school football standout is now learning he's not eligible to play his senior year because he repeated eighth grade.

Training to be the best both on and off the field never stops for Minnehaha Academy junior Craig McDonald. The star defensive back was approached by many Division I college programs, but recently decided to attend Iowa State University.

His joy was quickly gone when he learned the Minnesota State High School League ruled him ineligible for his upcoming senior year.

“I’ll still be able to go to Iowa State, but it still makes me feel like it’s unfair and unfortunate that I might not be able to play my senior year or graduate with my class that I’m going to school with now,” said Craig McDonald.

The league recently learned Craig had repeated eighth grade when his parents decided to take him out of public school and enroll him into the prestigious Minnehaha Academy.

“We didn’t do it for athletic reasons, we did it for social, emotional—maturity—there were multiple different variables on why we made the choice that we did,” said Shaun McDonald, Craig’s mom.

Shaun and Scott McDonald say they started their youngest child in kindergarten at four years old, not realizing he may not be able to keep up with older children. 

“He’s a student-athlete—student first," said Scott McDonald, Craig’s dad.

A letter sent to the family from the high school league cited bylaw 110 stated, "The student was not forced to withdraw because of circumstances beyond the student's or parents control,” which means it was his parents’ choice to have him repeat 8th grade, therefore interrupting his consecutive semesters and making him ineligible.

“There should always be exceptions to the rule—that’s why you have an appeals process—not that every appeal is going to be passed, but with this one it’s special,” said Shaun McDonald.

Concerns over how the MSHSL determines their student eligibility rules have come into question before. In 2017, the Office of the Legislative Auditor says they found deficiencies in how the league establishes eligibility criteria for students who transfer schools and recommends the league have a more transparent process.

“I’m not looking for special treatment, I’m just looking for justice,” said Craig McDonald.

FOX 9 reached out to the league, but they would not comment on a student's eligibility case.

McDonald and his family have one last appeal next month to see if he can play next year.