Goose Creek drama ends in lost season
An emotional saga came to a heartbreaking end for Goose Creek High School's football team and all of its supporters on Monday in Columbia.
The unbeaten Gators, ranked No. 1 in the state and as high as No. 11 in the country, were removed from the playoffs for the second time in a week for using an ineligible player. The South Carolina High School League Executive Committee voted 14-0 to uphold the league’s original ruling last week. A mercy vote also went against the Gators, 12-2.
"We're all disappointed," said Gators defensive coordinator Chris Candor, who stayed at the school with the rest of the coaching staff and players on Monday. "It's been dramatic and outrageous, like something you'd see on a made-for-TV movie.
“This is such an unbelievable situation to find ourselves in. It's hard to imagine it. It's hard to think of it as really happening. It's like a bad dream to be honest with you."
The decision ends a week-long effort by GCHS Principal Jimmy Huskey, football coach Chuck Reedy and the school district to give the Gators a chance to defend their Class AAAA Div. II championship.
"Some people might have played their last down of football," senior fullback Rashard Alston said. "It's just hard."
At a press conference held Tuesday of this week, Reedy said he “begged the (SCHSL) committee to suspend me, fine me, fire me. But don’t punish those kids. They’ve done nothing wrong. These seniors will never have another opportunity.”
When asked about the executive committee, Reedy did not mince words: “They answer to nobody,” he said. “They made a decision and we challenged it because it was wrong. We challenged them and they didn’t like it. We beat them on Friday. We had no chance on Monday because they were going to put Goose Creek back in its place.
“Hell no we didn’t get a fair hearing.”
Huskey said the punishment handed out to GCHS did not make sense. “You’ve got to be able to use your common sense and good judgement, and make a good decision,” he said. “We don’t feel like this was the case in this situation.”
The ordeal began Monday, Nov. 12, when Huskey was checking winter sports eligibility and discovered that a student transcript used at the beginning of football season was incomplete. It showed different information from what was originally available in August, and Huskey self reported the potential violation.
An extra year was added to the transcript, meaning the student-athlete in question, a special needs student on a non-diploma track, would have used up his eight semesters of athletic eligibility at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
A day later, Goose Creek was forced to forfeit its 48-7 playoff victory over Conway by SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton.
With Goose Creek citing a hardship on that basis it was not knowingly trying to gain a competitive advantage, appeals to the SCHSL Executive Committee fell on deaf ears on Wednesday and the Berkeley County School District filed a legal action on Thursday.
The Joye Law Firm, representing the district pro bono, sought a temporary restraining order on Friday to prevent SCHSL from enforcing Wednesday's decision, and were successful.
Less than eight hours later, the Gators defeated Bluffton, 35-25, after Circuit Judge Roger Young granted them the TRO. Judge Young also ordered the Gators to reappear in front of the executive committee by Monday for another hearing on the student's eligibility.
On Monday, lawyers for the Gators argued that that eligibility should have begun in 2010 when the student-athlete first enrolled at Berkeley High School.
For 2008-09, the student did matriculate but did not physically attend Woodmont High School his freshman year while enrolled at the Generations Group Home, a home for abused boys.
This part of his transcript was not available originally and he was approved to play sports at Goose Creek.
The student-athlete, who was referred to as “John Doe” in proceedings, only played in five games for a total 17 snaps for the Gators this season, never entering a game Goose Creek wasn’t winning by at least 41 points.
“He has done nothing to help Goose Creek win a football game,” Reedy said, “but Goose Creek has given that young man something he’s never had. We’d like to think we’ve made an impact in his life to make it better.
“That’s all we tried to do, try to help a young man, not even knowing there was an issue with his eligibility.”
But now, the Gators are forced to look ahead to 2013, while ninth-seeded Bluffton travels to No. 5 seed Northwestern for the state semifinals.
“Our kids are still champions because they weren’t defeated on the field,” Candor said.
Most of the GCHS coaches simply told the players, students and fans to hold their heads high.
“In the face of what we battled against, nobody quit,” assistant head coach Mark Leposky said. “Our coaches didn't quit. Our administrators didn't quit. Our players didn't quit on or off the field. Obviously, Gator Pride is alive and well.
“Wherever we are in groups or individuals, we're very prideful of what we have accomplished and what we’re going to accomplish in the future."
At Tuesday’s press conference, Huskey said the Gators face $3,300 in fines for the 11 games the ineligible player dressed. When other fines are assessed, including travel costs for the executive committee, Huskey said the total cost – which will be paid in full by the football program – could be near $9,000.