Conway’s football season ends in court, not on field

Conway’s season finally came to an end Friday, but in a SC Circuit Court instead of the football field.

Circuit Court Judge Roper Young issued an injunction against the SCHSL’s disqualification of Goose Creek, allowing the Gators to take on Bluffton tonight in the second-round of the Class 4A, Division II playoffs.

Goose Creek, which defeated Conway 48-7 last Friday before being disqualified for using an ineligible player, takes the Tigers’ place in the playoffs as a result of the ruling, which came minutes before the Tigers were scheduled to board a bus to Bluffton. Conway practiced the past three days for a game it will not play.

Following the 9 a.m. hearing, Young convened for more than 2 hours before granting the injunction. The ruling calls for Goose Creek to host Bluffton tonight, then for the SCHSL’s executive committee to revisit the issue Monday with an emphasis on getting to the bottom of exactly when the ineligible player’s athletic clock began.

Attorneys for Goose Creek argued that the Gators were being unfairly punished for an honest paperwork mistake that the school self-reported to the SCHSL. The transcripts of the player in question is a fifth-year high school student who had attended seven different schools, including state juvenile facilities.

The complexity of his situation delayed the student’s transcripts and prevented the school from knowing that the players’ athletic clock had expired, Goose Creek attorney Ken Harrell said. He also argued that the court has the authority to right any wrongs committed by the SCHSL, a state-funded but not operated institution.

Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy earlier claimed that the troubled student was given the opportunity to join the team as a means of helping him stay out of trouble and learn life lessons from football. He contends that the player took part in only five games this season, and did not enter until the Gators were ahead by 44 or more points.

Roper agreed that it was an emotionally charged issue, but he opted to focus on the student’s eligibility clock and that there was enough doubt that the SCHSL should look into the matter further. If the SCHSL decides to uphold the disqualification, Bluffton would take the Gators’ place in the playoffs regardless of the outcome.

The ruling ended a week-long saga that began with Conway players turning in their football equipment Monday following its 48-7 loss to Goose Creek last Friday. Following the SCHSL’s decision to disqualify the Gators on Tuesday, the Tigers reissued equipment and returned to the practice field to get ready for Bluffton.

Goose Creek was granted an appeals hearing Wednesday afternoon in Columbia, but the SCHSL’s executive committee voted 9-2 to uphold with disqualification. The Gators then requested a “mercy vote,” in which they admitted guilt and requested the committee overturn its decision based on the case’s circumstances but lost by a 10-1 vote.

That sent Goose Creek to the legal system in search of recourse, and the Gators got it … at least until Monday. Unlike a football game, legal battles don’t always end at the final horn.

Photo by Chuck Silvey

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