Goose Creek can't evade 'death penalty'

(John Gaddy/WCIV)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - For the third time in a week, the Goose Creek High School football team defended its right to be in the state playoffs.

On Monday, the team's legal counsel could not convince the South Carolina High School League to allow Goose Creek to move on in the playoffs and vacate the disqualification ruling against the team for fielding an ineligible player.

The committee voted unanimously to count the 2008-2009 school year as John Doe's freshman year. In a second vote to change the penalty imposed on the school, the committee rejected Goose Creek's appeal by a vote of 12-2. The forfeiture stood and Goose Creek would not move forward into the semifinals.

Goose Creek asked the committee to reverse decisions of forfeiture and instead impose a fine on the school. Head football coach Chuck Reedy pleaded with the committee to reverse its decision and change the penalties against the school.

"We tried to do things the right way. We tried to set an example," he said. "We had no intent to hurt anyone or do anything other than to do the right thing."

He said the SCHSL had the authority to make any decision, but it also had the power to change its mind.

"It doesn't have to be a death penalty," Reedy said. "Punish me. Punish the school. This is about those other 65 young men who did nothing wrong."

Tearfully, principal Jimmy Huskey said he only ever wanted to be associated with Goose Creek because of the way the community has supported the school and the team.

"I am devastated by what has happened to these young people," said Principal Jimmy Huskey.

Huskey told the committee it's about doing the right thing, telling them his team volunteers at the veterans' hospital, at the Ronald McDonald House and other places in the community.

"What we (as administrators) did was wrong," he said. "Please give this children an opportunity for what they earned on the field."

During the proceedings Monday afternoon, Ken Harrell walked the SCHSL committee through John Doe's permanent file that outlines years of behavioral issues, showing that John Doe went astray at age 13 when he started destroying school property and disrespecting faculty members. He was even accused of inappropriately touching female students.

However, Harrell said, that changed at Goose Creek. As a student-athlete at Goose Creek, John Doe has turned into a leader at the school, Principal Jimmy Huskey told the committee.

The behavioral specialist who works with John Doe, Darren Alexander, agreed with Harrell.

"I can't tell you the impact that Goose Creek High has had," he said. "He smiled each and every day and told me, 'I didn't get in the game, but I learned something.'"

Harrell said many of John Doe's behavior problems started after he watched his mother be physically abused.

Harrell went back to arguments made Friday in court, saying the question of eligibility comes into play when they try to determine when and where John Doe went to school. During the 2008-2009 school year, John Doe was placed in a group home by the Department of Juvenile Justice where he was not given access to high school sports or other extracurricular activities.

Goose Creek argued the lack of access delayed John Doe's eligibility by the SCHSL constitution until he attended Berkeley High School last year.

After Harrell finished his argument, committee members focused their questions on eligibility.

"If he does not have access to sports, is he still considered enrolled?" one member asked.

Huskey said some students in certain group homes have access to clubs and sports, but said the one John Doe attended did not allow him that access to the school.

According to files from Berkeley High School, John Doe was considered a senior even though he did not have enough credit hours for that classification. Committee member Akil Ross asked Huskey why the records were changed.

"He doesn't have the credits to be a twelfth grader," Huskey said, adding that his office cleans up the transcript to reflect the credit information they have on file.

Huskey defended the misreading of John Doe's transcript by saying that Goose Creek routinely has students in the seventh and eighth grade who enroll in the high school with credit. He went on to say that he did not know why Berkeley listed John Doe as a senior because he does not have access to that school's student database.

"Had we known he was classified as a senior, we would not have listed him as eligible or self-reported," Huskey said.

On Friday, the school's legal team successfully argued in front of a Circuit Court judge to put a temporary restraining order on the quarterfinal game between Conway and Bluffton and allow Goose Creek to play Bluffton last Friday.

Now, Bluffton's loss Friday night will be reversed and they will move on to play Northwestern High School.

Huskey, Reedy and members of the school community will host a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. at the Goose Creek High School Fine Arts Auditorium.