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From vows to victory: High school football player becomes eligible after getting married

(PHOTO: KATV)

How many of us have had to manage this fall conflict: football and weddings?

It's a story about one small-town football team and how the institution of marriage has helped contribute to a surprising success story, according to our sister station KATV.

Mountain Pine hasn't made the state football playoffs since 2010. The Red Devils won a total of three games over the past six seasons.

This year the team is riding a seven-game winning streak -- fueled by a rule used only a few times over the past 40 years.

Arkansas high school football's biggest turnaround is taking place in the shadow of a Garland County mountain, under towering pine trees.

After a winless season last year, Mountain Pine opened this season with a 35-0 loss to Jessieville. But the next week the Red Devils won. Then in week three, the team won again. Mountain Pine is now 7-1 and heading for the playoffs.

So, what changed between week one and week two?

A star player became eligible.

Mountain Pine has several good players, but this player has rushed for over 100 yards in every game. He has scored 16 touchdowns in those seven victories.

He was a transfer student initially ruled ineligible by the Arkansas Activities Association.

He gained eligibility thanks to a little-known and seldom-used exception: He got married to a student in the district and moved in with her parents.

"We're in the participation business," says Lance Taylor, executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association. "So, we try to get kids eligible as long as they meet the rules that all students have to meet in our state."

Rule 16, Subsection A, Exception 6 states that if a "… student is married and living with a spouse ... who had an established domicile in the district one year prior to the marriage ..." then he or she is instantly eligible.

On Aug. 31, Mountain Pine Superintendent Bobby Applegate emailed the AAA asking, "What all information did you say you needed for our student to become eligible when he gets married besides the license?"

A week later, Applegate provided the AAA with a marriage certificate with the names of two 17-year-old students on it. Applegate also provided an email from the bride's father confirming that the teens had married "due to a certain circumstances."

The student in question played in the second game of the season and the Red Devils haven't lost since.

"What we do is just make sure that they followed our rules and being married with a marriage certificate ... that's part of our rules," says Taylor.

KATV visited the home where this player now lives. His father-in-law decided against doing an on-camera interview but he assures that the primary reason for this union does not involve sports or eligibility.

KATV requested an interview with Applegate. He emailed to say, "I'm sorry but at this time I will have to decline the interview." The player's mother also said no to a request for an interview, as did the newly married teens.

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