Conway’s season over regardless of Goose Creek’s fate

Conway football players, sans pads and helmets, played a seven-on-seven game Friday afternoon at The Backyard.

It wasn’t what the Tigers were hoping for, but it was the game they were left with.

S.C. 9th District Circuit Court Judge Roger Young ruled Goose Creek back into the playoffs, overturning the S.C. High School League’s decision to disqualify the Gators earlier this week. The High School League’s original ruling put Conway back into the Class AAAA, Division II bracket, and the Tigers were set to head to Bluffton for a second-round game to be played Friday night.

However, Young’s ruling stopped all that around 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Young stated that the SCHSL must re-review its ruling by 5 p.m. Monday. Either way, Conway coach Chuck Jordan said his team has already moved on. By 2 p.m. Friday, the coaching staff had already picked up equipment.

It led to that pick-up game, and – at least for the Tigers – a sense of finality for the 2012 season.

“I have to remind myself that we didn’t do anything,” Jordan said. “We were one of the pawns. We were told to play, so we passed out equipment and practiced and we were going to go down there and play. We have not been in control during this entire thing.

“Are we glad the rabbit hole didn’t go on and on? Yeah. I would not have wanted to practice another week and have the same thing happen.”

There was some confusion Friday as to what would take place should Goose Creek be disqualified again by the SCHSL in the upcoming hearing. Regardless of Friday’s result, though, the High School League constitution states that only one team – Goose Creek or Bluffton – will be allowed to move on. It prevents the playoffs from being extended and compromising financial agreements the League has with state title venues.

That means, even with a Goose Creek victory and another forfeiture as potentially declared by the SCHSL, Conway’s season is finished.

It was the next step in an emotional week for Goose Creek, and one that saw rare oversight of high school athletics by the court systems in South Carolina.

“The bottom line of these things is courts are reluctant to intervene,” said Joe McCulloch, a Columbia-based attorney and law professor at the University of South Carolina. “The law only allows for reluctant intervention. And only when a multi-part test is met for this extraordinary relief of injunction.”

McCulloch successfully petitioned the courts for relief in a similar matter that involved the state’s smaller independent schools’ association several years ago. Still, he said actions such as Friday’s are often hard to receive.

That comes despite the fact that the SCHSL was deemed by the South Carolina Supreme Court to have governmental properties. It allows for some oversight, even though the courts generally avoid it.

Similar cases have been filed in Ohio, Oklahoma and Illinois, among others, this year.

In this matter, it overruled the SCHSL, and at least for the time being, restored the Class AAAA bracket to its original look. Goose Creek, which has won 25 consecutive games and was the overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions, was given seven hours to prepare for Friday’s game. Bluffton, meanwhile, went from believing it was going to have a home game against Conway to getting ready for a trip to Goose Creek.

Young’s decision ended Conway’s season at 5-7.

The team had not yet left the school for Bluffton, a trip that would have cost the school approximately $2,450 in buses and meals.

Instead, the for the second time in a week, coaches collected equipment.

While it has been a trying and someone confusing chain of events for all three schools, Jordan said the last five days exhibit how difficult it can be to stay on top of all the rules set forth by the SCHSL. In addition to serving as a football coach, he is also the school’s athletics director.

“I’ve got 932 names in my data base. I have 20 items in terms of eligibility, birth certificates, parent [permission] forms, etc,” he said. “Is every bit of the information on my 932 names correct? I don’t know. It just goes to show how much has to be done by the athletics director. It’s a hard job, and there’s a lot of responsibility in that respect.

“You can see how much collateral damage a mistake like that can have.”

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