Start all over is one idea for how to fix the S.C. High School League
Chuck Reedy’s prescription for what ails the S.C. High School League comes as no surprise.
Members of the SCHSL executive committee:
Name Job Committee position
Paul Anderson Principal, Ware Shoals HS President
Marion Waters Principal, Greer HS Vice President
Joe Keenan Principal, Lancaster HS Past President
Jimmy Huskey Principal, Goose Creek HS AAAA representative
Marion Lawson Principal, Pickens HS AAA representative
Devon Smith Principal, Crescent HS AA representative
Mickey Pringle Principal, Denmark-Olar HS A representative
Jay Ragley SC. Dept. of Education DOE representative
Billy Strickland Supt., Laurens 55 Supt. Association
Lou Lavely Principal, Travelers Rest HS Principals Assoc.
Queenie Boyd Secretary, School Boards Assoc. SBA representative
Steve Boyd AD, York HS Coaches Association
Lori Marrero Principal, Muller Middle School Associate Members Rep.
Joedy Moots Asst. principal, Lexington HS Officials Association
Darryl Nance AD, Wade Hampton HS Athletic Administrators Assoc.
Bennie Bennett Supt., Newberry District Member At Large
Akil Ross Principal, Chapin HS Member at Large
Teresa Pope Supt., Blackville-Hilda Member At Large
“The best thing would be to do away with it and start all over,” said the Goose Creek High School football coach, whose nationally ranked Gators were at the center of the latest controversy involving the High School League.
The governing body of high school athletics in South Carolina has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years. Just last year, state Rep. Jim Merrill introduced a bill that would make the state Superintendent of Education the final authority in decisions made by the SCHSL. That bill didn’t make it out of committee, but it’s plain that the High School League is in for even closer examination in the wake of the high-profile Goose Creek case.
The 13-0 Gators, defending state champions, were booted from the playoffs for using an allegedly ineligible player.
“I’ve been very smugly saying, ‘I told you so,’ ” said Merrill, R-Berkeley. “But I’ve had numerous calls from members who say, ‘I should have gone ahead and voted for that bill.’ I don’t think it will be difficult to get a lot of sponsors next time.”
Just this week, Merrill pre-filed another bill that would put the S.C. Dept. of Education in charge of high school athletics. State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau) already has promised a bill revoking the High School League’s charter as a way to spark change. State Sen. Paul Campbell warned that the High School League “has made a huge mistake.”
And state Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Denmark) told the Orangeburg Times and Democrat that the High School League “needs some oversight. It needs to be examined.”
Rules are rules
Organizations such as the SCHSL are easy targets, says Bob Gardner, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“It’s easy to throw mud at them,” he said. “They are the ones who have to say, ‘No.’ And that’s never popular. But most have stood the test of time, and have the best interest of the young people at heart.”
SCHSL rules are drawn up by the league’s members, points out Charleston County athletic director Dave Spurlock, a veteran coach and administrator. The SCHSL commissioner and executive committee merely enforce rules created by the member schools.
“Everyone of us as athletic directors and administrators know those rules,” he said. “We have them ingrained in our psyche and memory. That doesn’t mean there aren’t clerical mistakes, but rules are rules.”
But others see deeper problems. Merrill points to a “lack of accountability” in a system where the same executive committee that hires the SCHSL commissioner hears appeals of decisions made by that commissioner.
“We’ve had on-going problems with the High School League,” Merrill said. “There have been many cases that don’t get the notoriety that the Goose Creek case has. When it comes other sports besides football, there is an endless list of grievances.”
Solutions can be problematic, as with Merrill’s proposal to make the state DOE superintendent the final arbiter in appeals.
“I guarantee you the superintendent doesn’t want that to happen,” said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland association, which is part of that state’s Dept. of Education.
Other critics say SCHSL punishment — banishment from the playoffs, for example — doesn’t always fit the crime.
“People always ask, is there any other penalty you could put on a team other than forfeit?” said Sparks. “It’s not like the pros, where you can fine them $100,000, or like college, where you can take away scholarships. I don’t know if anybody can come up with another solution. If they do, I’d love for them to tell us, and we’ll do it.”
According to Goose Creek’s Reedy, Berkeley County school district officials plan a two-pronged attack to effect change in the High School League: External pressure from the state legislature, and internal pressure in the form of new proposals.
Proposals for rule changes are due by Jan. 1. In February, the executive committee will vote to recommend or not recommend each proposal — a process that Reedy says is itself problematic — before the proposed changes go before the entire membership.
Members will vote on new proposals at the SCHSL’s annual meeting, set for March in Charleston. A two-thirds majority is needed to change the SCHSL constitution. Commissioner Jerome Singleton said the SCHSL has approved rules changes in 16 of the past 17 years.
Some of the ideas that could be implemented:
• Establishing a four-level hierarchy of violations, from minor to major, with differing degrees of punishment.
“Right now, they don’t differentiate between someone speeding and someone murdering somebody,” Reedy said.
• Consideration for schools that self-report violations.
“What benefit is there to self-report?” asked Reedy. “None, other than doing the right thing. A school that self-reports is treated the same way as a school that is turned in for breaking the rules.”
• Geographic balance on the 18-member executive committee, which has provisions only for racial and gender balance. Of the 18 members, 17 are from towns and schools west of I-95.
At the Goose Creek hearings, the only committee member from the Lowcountry — Goose Creek principal Jimmy Huskey — had to recuse himself.
“We’re asking for geographic balance,” Reedy said. “Last time I checked, Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant were three of the largest cities in the state.”
Reedy and state legislators are optimistic that the Goose Creek case has generated momentum for change.
“It’s not going to change what happened to us,” Reedy said. “But maybe it will prevent it from happening to somebody else.”