Two players are facing criminal assault charges following a post-game melee that broke out between the Camden and Dreher high school football teams, according to the Camden Police Department.
The schools also were told Thursday that their appeals of penalties imposed on their football programs because of the fight were denied.
Orlando Zaquan Williams, 17, of Camden and Jeffrey Jordan Wider, 17, of Columbia have each been charged with third-degree assault and battery, Capt. Mike Stone, a department spokesman, said in a press release Thursday.
Wider is an offensive guard for the Dreher Blue Devils. Williams is a senior defensive lineman for the Camden Bulldogs.
In South Carolina, third-degree assault and battery carries a maximum penalty of not more than a $500 fine or 30 days in prison, or both, according to the South Carolina Judicial Department.
The fight broke out between the teams Oct. 17 as they lined up to shake hands after Camden defeated Dreher in Camden, 39-30.
Stone said that by using video enhancement software on a recording of the fight, investigators were able to identify Williams and Wider assaulting coaches or school administrators as they attempted to break up the fight.
Even though Williams and Wider were the only two players charged in the incident, there were many others that can be seen pushing and punching in the nearly two-minute video.
Both teams were handed disciplinary actions following the fight by the High School League, including multi-game suspensions for some players, fines, probation as well as a ban on jamboree games and postseason games.
The teams appealed their cases during a hearing held Thursday.
Camden’s appeal was denied 10-4; Dreher’s, by a 9-4 vote.
“I don’t know whether they got it right, but I know they did what the (League’s) Constitution said, they upheld the Constitution,” League commissioner Jerome Singleton said. “So if the constitution is right, then yes, they did it right.”
The decision means the Bulldogs and Blue Devils, both 3-2 in Region 5-3A and therefore eligible for the playoffs, are barred from postseason competition. The programs have 48 hours to request a second and final appeal, which would be heard by the appellate panel established in a 2013 constitutional amendment.
Kershaw County School District officials have decided to request that appeal. Dreher’s representatives declined to comment after the hearing.
During their appeals, administrators from both schools pointed out that the game was physical and hotly contested and asserted that tighter officiating during the game could have changed the tone and the course of the night. But both coach Jimmy Neal of Camden and Dreher coach Treigh Sullivan said they did not consider forgoing the customary post-game handshake between teams.
“Every game for us is highly contested,” Sullivan said.
“The last two games, against Richland Northeast and Lower Richland, those games came down to the last play,” he said. “We played this game down to the last play. There was no unsportsman-likes called during the game. We don’t have a history of this and I don’t think Camden did, so I didn’t think anything of it.”
In reviewing a three-minute video clip of the incident, assistant commissioner Skip Lax pointed out that the initial confrontation devolved into three separate fights, with players moving into and away from the fray continuously. From the video, it was hard to determine the intentions of many of the players in the scrums.
Camden principal Dan Matthews said, “Most of them, in my opinion, were trying to get their other teammates out.”
Lax said the Camden Police Department informed him that two players, later identified as Williams and Wider, hit or pushed a coach or administrator from an opposing team – actions that constituted third-degree assault.
According to the Rules and Regulations in the League handbook, those players were subject to a minimum suspension of two games and a maximum one-year suspension, Lax said.
The handbook also states that when a player is subject to the maximum penalty, the team must be placed on immediate probation.
Officials from both schools said they disagreed with the decision to penalize the entire team for the actions of certain players.
“We believe there is a provision within the League’s constitution that would allow for a lesser probation where Camden High School would be allowed to participate in the playoffs,” Kershaw County Superintendent Frank Morgan said in a release Thursday afternoon.
Camden officials argued that because its staff acted quickly to break up the fracas, the team should be granted leniency.
“Camden did not instigate this situation,” Morgan said after the hearing.
Lax said the League determined that the harsher penalty was also warranted based on the severity of the entire incident. Of the 61 players on the Camden roster, 11 were penalized by the League, the school and Kershaw County School District. Nine of Dreher’s 41 players have been penalized by the League, school and Richland School District 1.
Dreher principal Jeanne Stiglbauer pointed out that several players from both teams stood back from the altercation, and that at least one Blue Devil, after being hit, simply walked away. She asked the committee to have mercy on those players in rescinding the probation in order to allow them to a chance at postseason play.
“By placing both schools on probation, 80 players who were not guilty of fighting are being penalized,” Dreher athletics director Mike DuBard argued. “This is not serving their needs. I do not believe that the actions of one player should condemn 40 others.”
League Commissioner Jerome Singleton said the clusters of players and poor visibility of jersey numbers meant that it was nearly impossible to be certain that all involved players have been penalized.
“It’s unfortunate, but team sports is team sports,” Singleton said. “And as you enjoy the privileges that come along with being a part of a team – whether you played or not – if you’re a part of that team and a few people make great things occur, you get to enjoy that. It’s hard to divorce yourself from that when bad things happen.”
Singleton said an Appellate Panel hearing is tentatively scheduled for the morning of Nov. 3.
The teams’ final regular season games are on Friday. Playoff brackets will be set after those games, Singleton said, based on Camden and Dreher’s status as ineligible. Should one or either team be reinstated, the brackets would have to be adjusted on Monday.