MONCKS CORNER — Lawyers for Goose Creek High School spent Friday morning stating their case for allowing the football team to continue competing in the playoffs.
Circuit Judge Roger Young heard from representatives of the school and from the South Carolina High School League, which disqualified Goose Creek for the remainder of the playoffs after ruling the team had used an ineligible player. Young is expected to announce his decision shortly at the Berkeley County Courthouse.
Goose Creek was supposed to host Bluffton tonight in the second round of the Division II-AAAA playoffs. As a result of the Gators’ disqualification, Bluffton now is scheduled to play at home against Conway, a team Goose Creek beat 48-7 last week in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s a sad situation for the young men who play football at Goose Creek,” said attorney Ken Harrell, one of two attorneys representing the school, Thursday night. “We hope to impress on Judge Young that the High School League’s ruling was legally and factually wrong. We believe he has the power to overturn it and reinstate Goose Creek in the playoffs.”
Berkeley County Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Goose Creek Principal Jimmy Huskey said they weighed all options before deciding Thursday to challenge the High School League in court.
“This afternoon we decided that pursuing a legal course of action was appropriate and justifiable,” Thompson said in a press release. “First, the punishment of our students does not fit the infraction. Second, there was no intent to gain competitive advantage in play. Third, there was no intent to deceive; and, fourth, the child in question should qualify for hardship consideration given his special qualifications.”
High School League Commissioner Jerome Singleton ruled Tuesday that Goose Creek used an ineligible player and therefore was disqualified from the playoffs. Goose Creek appealed his ruling to the league’s Executive Committee, which voted 9-2 Wednesday to uphold the commissioner’s decision.
Goose Creek requested a second vote, asking the committee to consider a hardship case for the student involved. That vote went 10-1 against the team.
The player, who was not identified, was declared ineligible because he was in his fifth year of high school and had used up his eligibility to play sports.
He was a transfer student, and an updated transcript wasn’t received until after he was enrolled.
The Joye Law Firm will handle the case at no cost to the district, with Harrell and Chris McCool representing Goose Creek.
Huskey said the school requested Wednesday’s hearing be closed to the public and media because he wanted to protect the ineligible student’s identity.
“The High School League asked us to not have parents in the audience,” Huskey said. “I didn’t want it to turn into a circus. I didn’t think we needed the support. That’s how sure I thought our case was. Looking back, I wish we had an open session.”
According to Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, the session should have been public, and closing it violated the state Freedom of Information Act.
He said a recent lawsuit determined that the High School League, which operates on taxpayer funding, is a public body.
Today’s court appearance and possible ruling could affect tonight’s playoff schedule. It wouldn’t be the first time an injunction stopped a High School League contest.
In February 2010, Singleton ruled that Hanahan used an ineligible wrestler, and he banned the Hawks from the playoffs.
School officials got an injunction that halted the Class AA state championship wrestling match between Loris and Woodruff in Columbia about a half-hour before it was scheduled start.
Wrestlers from both teams were getting ready for the match when they received the news. Hanahan officials finally dropped their case.
For now, it’s Goose Creek, Conway and Bluffton that are playing the waiting game.
“I’m good friends with (coach) Chuck Reedy, and I hate it for him,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan told the Sun News after he reissued equipment to his players. “They are a good football team, and I would like to see them defend their state title. With that door open for us, we’re going to walk through it. We want to make the most of it.”
Bluffton coach Ken Cribb wasn’t sure which team to prepare for this week.
“Conway only has Bluffton to prepare for and Goose Creek only has Bluffton to prepare for,” Cribb told the Island Packet. “We don’t know whether we’re going to be home or away and we don’t know who we’re going to be playing.”
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @pandcphil.