MONCKS CORNER – The Goose Creek High School football team is being given a second chance following a Friday morning hearing that challenged the disqualification of the team due to an ineligible player.
Ninth Circuit Judge Roger Young has ordered a temporary restraining order on the South Carolina High School League’s decision to rule a Goose Creek player ineligible and disqualify the team from the playoffs.
The ruling will allow the Gators to play at home Friday night against Bluffton.
“We are going to play tonight with confidence that our student athletes deserve to be on that field,” said Goose Creek football coach Chuck Reedy.
The SCHSL and Goose Creek officials must meet by Monday at 5 p.m. to decide if the player in question qualifies for extraordinary circumstances that would extend his eligibility. The meeting must be held in open session.
If Goose Creek wins Friday night and the player is again found to be ineligible, Goose Creek will forfeit and Bluffton will move on.
Judge Young said his ruling was based around questions surrounding the players eligibility.
Attorneys Ken Harrell and Chris McCool of the Joye Law Firm represented Goose Creek High School. The law firm handled the case at no cost to the district.
The student in question was referred to as “John Doe” during the hearing.
Goose Creek offered a strikingly different argument during Friday’s hearing as compared to the one used at Wednesday’s SCHSL session.
Instead of Goose Creek concentrating on how they tried to help a troubled student who has been enrolled in seven schools and lived in multiple homes, Harrell and McCool attempted to prove his eligibility.
Judge Young told Goose Creek attorneys, “Your strongest argument is he is eligible. Help me understand.”
According to Harrell, federal law states students should be given the opportunity to play eight semesters of high school athletics.
The attorneys argued the student was ordered into a home group by the Department of Juvenile Justice while in ninth grade, therefore not giving him the opportunity to play sports. His eligibility should have begun when he began attending a high school in the 10th grade.
SCHSL’s attorney, Bob Warner, argued although Doe was sentenced to home during ninth grade, he still had eligibility whether he used it or not.
The plaintiffs responded, “if the student was sentenced to home, he did not enroll in class. Rules state eligibility starts at enrollment.”
Harrell and McCool said Doe is a non-diploma student and is not on course to get a diploma. SCHSL rules, according to the plaintiff, state he should still be eligible to play if he is meeting individual requirements.
Warner also argued that Goose Creek admitted Doe was ineligible during Wednesday’s session, and said it is too late to now petition for the player’s eligibility.
Had the school petitioned for a fifth year of eligibility underneath the extraordinary hardship exemption at the beginning of the season, the SCHSL says they would have allowed the student to play. But now it is too late.
Lawyers for Goose Creek said the school did the right thing by reporting as soon as the error was found, but they did not have all the facts when they did.
Goose Creek argued allowing Doe to play provided no competitive advantage, as he only played after the team was up by over 41 points.
Warner contended it is not the court’s place to put judgment into SCHSL decisions.
Friday’s packed courtroom was filled school officials, parents, and even a couple Goose Creek football players. Players had to return to school after both sides completed their arguments in case the disqualification is overturned. By rule, students have to attend two periods of class in order to play.
Before Goose Creek’s disqualification, the Gators were set to face Bluffton in the playoffs Friday, but because of the SCHSL’s ruling, Conway would’ve taken Goose Creek’s spot.
Goose Creek defeated Conway 48-7 in the playoffs last week.