Goose Creek football team loses ineligible-player appeal
COLUMBIA — Goose Creek High School officials and supporters began Monday with high hopes in advance of an appeal in front of the High School League's executive committee that would determine the fate of the football team. Before the hearing was over, the group was pleading for mercy.
What the Gators received was the death penalty, principal Jimmy Huskey said.
The executive committee — for the second time in five days — voted to uphold league commissioner Jerome Singleton's ruling that the Gators used an ineligible player and had to forfeit 10 games in which the student dressed for or played in.
After the 14-0 vote against Goose Creek, Jay Ragley, a committee member from the state Department of Education, made a motion to grant the Gators mercy. But the executive committee voted 12-2 to deny it.
For now, Goose Creek's season is over. Principal Jimmy Huskey said the school will study all its options and will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. today to talk about the case and Goose Creek's options. He didn't rule out returning to court.
“We were hoping for mercy for the children,” Huskey said. “It was about a school that reported itself, and I felt we got the death penalty for being honest. We were shocked and saddened.”
There were plenty of tears in the crowd of Goose Creek supporters crammed into the High School League office for the 2Ĺ-hour hearing.
“Now, I have to go home and hear my son cry his eyes out because he will never play a high school game again,” said Tanya Segar-Davis, whose son, Jalen Stevens, plays defensive end.
One Goose Creek supporter yelled, “I hope you are governed by a higher power,” as a member of the executive committee walked to his car.
Monday marked perhaps the final chapter in a story that played out for more than a week.
Last Tuesday, Singleton ruled the Gators used an ineligible player and banned them from the playoffs. The following day, the executive committee upheld his decision during a closed session in violation of the state's Freedom of Information Act.
The Gators took their case to court Friday, and Circuit Judge Roger Young granted a temporary restraining order that allowed the school to play Friday night's game against Bluffton, a 35-25 Gators victory. Young also ruled the executive committee had to convene in open session Monday to reconsider the eligibility requirements based on its rules.
Coach Chuck Reedy's team, the defending Division II-AAAA state champion, was 13-0 and had a 26-game winning streak after beating Bluffton on Friday.
The Goose Creek player declared ineligible by the High School League is a foster child who has special needs. He was in and out of facilities and attended six schools before finally transferring from Berkeley High to Goose Creek in time for the 2012-13 academic year.
His mother attended Monday's hearing but was not involved in the case.
Goose Creek officials discovered the student wasn't at Woodmont High, located near Greenville, his freshman year in 2008. He was actually incarcerated at a facility called Generations Home in Simpsonville, and was not allowed to leave the premises. Goose Creek officials said he never stepped foot on the Woodmont campus, and the classes credited to Woodmont were actually taken at the Generations Home. For those reasons, they argued, the student still has a year of eligibilty.
But according to files from Berkeley High School, the student was considered a senior last year, even though he didn't have enough credit hours. That seemed to be the biggest blow to Goose Creek's case.
“He doesn't have the credits to be a 12th-grader,” Huskey said, adding that his office adjusts transcripts to reflect the credit information they have on a student.
Monday's ruling puts Bluffton back in the playoffs against Northwestern on Friday.
Bluffton homecoming queen Talley Young, who attended the hearing, was pleased with the outcome.
“I just wanted Bluffton to continue playing,” she said. “Playing a game (last) Friday with such a short notice wasn't fair to us. We found out at 1 o'clock and then had to hit the road.
“I'm very happy with the outcome. I respect the process even more because I got to see something like this play out.”
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter @pandcphil.