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'Let John play!' is the call at Oyster Bay for John Ottaunick

John Ottaunick of Oyster Bay shakes hands with

John Ottaunick of Oyster Bay shakes hands with his teammates prior to a game against Cold Spring Harbor at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Oyster Bay, NY on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Credit: Steven Ryan

The announcer read off all of the names -- guys like Felix Gutierrez and Ryan Hauser and J.T. Jaronczyk -- mainstays on an Oyster Bay football team who have waited four years for that senior-year spotlight.

Then he read the name of someone who won't be part of a single play his senior year:

"John Ottaunick."

"Let John play!" the crowd yelled back at Friday's homecoming rally

But John wasn't going to play and though the fans at Saturday's game were more subdued, the support remained."My eyes teared up a little," said Patti Jaronczyk, the mom of John's former teammate, J.T. "The team really misses him and it's a shame nothing can be done. [J.T.] was so upset. They still consider him part of the team."

Earlier this season, Ottaunick, who turned 19 on June 13, was deemed ineligible to play after missing the age cutoff by 17 days. Christopher Ottaunick, John's father, said his son was held back two years after he was adopted from a Siberian orphanage at age 11.

Christopher considered appealing the decision with the state education department, but was told by his lawyers that it would be unsuccessful.

So John likely won't play his senior season in either football or track, but if Saturday's homecoming game against Cold Spring Harbor was any indication, the Oyster Bay community still views him as someone to root for.

"It's ridiculous," said Fred Marmorele, whose son ran track with Ottaunick. "There was a mistake made when they held him back without testing him . . . and it's damaging him."

What compounds it, Marmorele said, was that Ottaunick had little access to sports in Russia, "and now they're taking it from him."

Michelle Yu, an Oyster Bay sophomore who plays lacrosse, said the situation was unjust. "It would be very unfair," if it happened to her, she said. "I'd argue against the school. I'd argue against everyone."

Classmate Jen Rebuth echoed her sentiments: "I saw it on Facebook and I just don't think it's fair."

There is little leeway in the issue of age of eligibility in the state high school athletic handbook. It's something governed by the commissioner of education and state athletic high school director Robert Zayas said he could not recall a successful appeal.

That, though, didn't stop Ottaunick from enjoying every part of the high school football experience that he could Saturday. He was again announced with the seniors before the game, and shook hands and high-fived his teammates while making his way down the line.

Dressed in a T-shirt and flip flops amid a sea of purple jerseys and cleats, he rooted from the sidelines and made water runs for his teammates during the first half of the 27-0 loss. At halftime, he took part in the senior homecoming performance -- a tribute to this year's theme, "Toy Story."

"It's disconcerting," said Mike Sonta, who graduated from the high school last year. "It's two weeks. They couldn't make an exception because of his circumstances? The situation was out of his control."

Fellow alumni Joey Sheehan repeatedly called the situation "ridiculous," adding, "He's not even that much older, and he's still in high school."

Rich Pinnock, whose daughter is the class president, said the question of Ottaunick's eligibility barely seemed like an argument to have.

"This young man is not looking to be a professional football player," he said. "He wants to have fun and stay engaged with his peers. He wants the opportunity to finish his senior year. He just has a love for the game."

Pinnock added that this is especially relevant because Ottaunick's size isn't a threat to anyone on the field. He is 5-10 and 150 pounds.

Though many don't know John personally, plenty of people are showing support, Patti Jaronczyk said. "It's a small town and everyone knows everyone," she said. "It's very sad for him and sad for the kids."

There does seems to be a glimmer of silver lining. John said that, because of his age, he'd often felt a divide between him and his classmates. That divide shrank when he joined the team, he said. Then came that pep rally.

"I think," Christopher said, "he finally felt he belonged."

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