Legislators to prep league: Change rules or else
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina High School League could decide its own fate this weekend at its annual conference when members vote on whether to establish a more open appeals process and punishment system, legislators said Wednesday.
The warning came as a Senate panel took testimony on a bill that would eliminate the independent, dues-paying organization that governs middle and high school sports. The measure transfers the league’s responsibilities to the state Education Department, under an athletic commissioner ap-pointed by the state superintendent.
The 99-year-old league is made up of more than 200 member schools that set their competition rules. Under the bill, rules would instead be approved by the Legislature and appeals would go before the Administrative Law Court.
“Right now, they’re operated by an entity that’s unaccountable to elected officials,” said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, the bill’s main Senate sponsor.
Legislators have long complained about the league and their inability to have any say over decisions involving constituents. But league decisions that knocked defending state football champions Goose Creek out of the playoffs last November prompted bills to get rid of it.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek, the bill’s main House sponsor. “Almost every year you hear something about the league — that we need to do something — but that was the end of it.”
The league’s executive committee twice ruled Goose Creek High School, which is actually outside Daning’s district, had to forfeit all 10 games in which an ineligible player dressed to play. The second decision followed a circuit court judge ordering the league to reconsider.
Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy testified he alerted the league, amid the playoffs, to a possible mistake in allowing a special education student to play in five games when the team was ahead by at least 41 points.
“This was a young man who had no impact whatsoever in terms of advantage of any type. We assumed we’d be treated fairly, and we were given the death penalty,” Reedy said. “I begged them for mercy. I said, ‘Fire me. Penalize me. Do anything you want to do to me, but do not penalize these young men.’ … And we got a deaf ear.”
League director Jerome Singleton called the “death penalty” term a mischaracterization, saying the lowest-level penalty was applied according to the rules over ineligible players in a fifth year of high school.
Senators said they’re watching to see how schools’ representatives vote on proposals that provide an appeals process and tiered set of punishments. The league’s annual conference is Saturday in Charleston.
Some senators wanted to advance the bill to send a message. But the panel’s chairman, Sen. Wes Hayes, said that’s not necessary.
“If they don’t, they give us the message that somebody’s not listening,” said Hayes, R-Rock Hill.