A state legislator is calling for closer oversight of the South Carolina High School League following its decision not to allow the top-ranked football team in its division to defend its state title.
“It has become apparent the league is a public entity that needs some oversight. It needs to be examined,” state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, said Thursday. “It’s not just the Goose Creek situation. That’s just what brought it to a head. People are clamoring for some type of change.”
Goose Creek High School was undefeated in 4A Division II when officials self-reported their discovery that a new student enrolled at the school and was allowed to join the team based on an incomplete transcript. The error was discovered when a full transcript became available.
SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton ruled that the school had to forfeit the 10 games the player had dressed for or played in. The SCHSL’s Executive Committee upheld that ruling by a 9-2 vote.
Singleton also disqualified Goose Creek from the playoffs. Goose Creek appealed, knowing that in 2005 Summerville faced a similar situation and the committee allowed them into the playoffs. Also, Byrnes High was allowed back into the 2012 playoffs despite dressing out an ineligible player for one game.
But on Wednesday night, the SCHSL committee upheld Singleton’s disqualification of Goose Creek in the playoffs by a 10-1 vote.
On Thursday, Berkeley County school officials said they are going to court over the disqualification.
A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the Berkeley County Courthouse, Courtroom E. Attorneys Ken Harrell and Chris McCool of the Joye Law Firm will represent the district at no cost.
It won’t be known until after the hearing whether Friday night’s playoff game goes ahead, and if it does, whether that means Conway plays at Bluffton or Bluffton travels to Goose Creek.
The school officials listed the grounds for appealing to the court as these: the punishment does not fit the infraction, there was no intent to gain competitive advantage in play, there was no intent to deceive and the player in question should qualify for hardship consideration.
Sellers believes the punishment was too harsh, noting that the disqualified player “was in 17 plays all year.”
“I was always taught, growing up, that playing sports was a way you could grow as a person,” the lawmaker said. “It taught character and work ethics. We are building students here — I want to make sure that is always the focus.”
“At the end of the day, they are affecting kids’ lives. Everybody is interested in what impact these decisions have, who is making these decisions, what exactly the league does and how they do it,” Sellers said. “I am in the process of looking at (how) other states (govern high school athletics). I am interested in all types of possibilities and I am soliciting input from everybody. We’re all learning a lot, and I think this process is going to be good.”
Singleton could not be reached for comment, nor was anyone else at the SCHSL office available to speak with the media about Sellers’ remarks.
The league traces its origin to 1913, when the University of South Carolina brought representatives of various high schools together to form the Inter-High School Athletic and Oratorical Association. A new constitution in 1921 transferred control of the organization from the university to high school officials.
The league describes itself simply as “a voluntary organization” to which accredited public and private high schools, junior high schools and middle schools may apply for membership. Since 1954 all of the state’s public high schools have been members of the league.
Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, says the courts have ruled that the league meets the definition of a “public body” under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The league says its purpose is to “safeguard the educational values of interscholastic competition, to cultivate high ideals of sportsmanship, to ... promote, protect and conserve the health and physical welfare of all participants and to promote uniformity of standards in all interscholastic competition.”
Its motto is: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
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