The South Carolina High School League held firm Wednesday in its decision to ban Goose Creek High School from the state football playoffs. Rules are rules, it said, and the team broke them by allowing an ineligible player to participate during the season.
Too bad the league wasn’t as firm about holding itself accountable to state law.
On Wednesday, when the league’s executive committee met in Columbia to consider Goose Creek’s appeal that it be permitted to continue playing through the playoffs, members ignored the state’s Freedom of Information Act and shut out spectators and media.
There’s no question that the meeting was unlawful. Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said several years ago the courts determined that the High School League is a public body. It receives public money, and its decisions should be subject to public scrutiny.
The meeting had been scheduled as open to the public, but Goose Creek asked that it be closed.
You would think that the Goose Creek High School and Berkeley County School District officials would know better. But certainly the S.C. High School League Board should know better. Such hearings have been open for years.
School officials indicated that they wanted to spare the ineligible student embarrassment, but it was not necessary for his name to be disclosed — only the circumstances and the reasons for the league’s decision.
Instead, the public is left to wonder just how fair — or unfair — this ruling was because reporters were barred from the hearing.
That’s unfair to the player — and to his teammates and his school.
And that’s a terrible example to set for high school football players — and fans. If the League is willing to break the law, who’s to say it is not playing fast and loose with other rules, too?
The school and district are taking this case to court today in a last-ditch bid to have the High School League’s decision overturned.
But win or lose in the legal arena, Goose Creek’s once-dismal football program has achieved a remarkable, sustained rise during its 11 seasons under head coach Chuck Reedy.
The former college coach (assistant at Clemson and South Carolina, head coach at Baylor) led his Gators to the state Division II-AAAA state title last year. They boosted their winning streak to 25 games, and this year’s record to 12-0, with a 48-7 rout of Conway in the first round of the playoffs last Friday night.
So Goose Creek fans are rightly proud of their team — and understandably upset about such a seemingly harsh punishment for a violation that evidently gave the Gators no competitive advantage.
Whatever you think of the High School League’s penalty call against Goose Creek, though, cloaking it in secrecy — illegally — was no way to foster respect for and confidence in the process.
High school football, after all, should be as much about sportsmanship and teamwork as about blocking and tackling.
Knowing and adhering to the regulations — all of them, not just the convenient ones — should be Rule One.
And knowing and following the law should be Rule One for the S.C. High School League.
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