The appellate panel of the South Carolina High School League on Monday overturned the League’s decision to ban the Camden and Dreher football teams from postseason competition.
By a 4-1 vote, the panel voted to reduce Camden’s penalty from full probation, which prohibits postseason competition for this season’s playoffs and the 2015 preseason competition, to a restrictive probation. The Panel voted 6-0 to reduce Dreher’s penalty.
The teams will be allowed to compete in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs, which begin Friday. Dreher goes on the road to Berkeley in the Lower State. Camden will play at Belton Honea Path in the Upper State.
The teams had been put on probation and banned from the playoffs by the SCHSL after an Oct. 17 fight between players from both teams after their Region 4-3A contest.
Eleven Camden players and nine from Dreher were identified as being invovled in the brawl. One player from each team, Orlando Zaquan Williams, 17, of Camden, and Jeffrey Jordan Wider, 17, of Dreher, were each charged with third-degree assault and battery. Williams and Wider will not be eligible to play Friday. The others have served their league-mandated suspensions.
The league’s executive committee had denied both teams’ initial appeals, voting this past Thursday to uphold the probation. But the appellate panel, instituted by an amendment to the League’s constitution in 2013 and comprised of representatives from each of the state’s congressional districts, had the final say.
Camden coach Jimmy Neal walked out of the hearing on Monday and sent a text message to his players to be ready for practice at 4 p.m.
“Everybody’s going to be real excited. It’s a neat thing,” said Neal, whose Bulldogs are set to go to Belton Honea Path. “And we’ve got to tell them, we’ve got to be careful. We are on probation. We’ve got to do what’s right, which we’ve always tried to do. We’ve got to be even more careful, that we stay on our side of the field, we do what we’re supposed to do and we do it to the best of our abilities.”
Dreher coach Treigh Sullivan said: “I’m very glad that we were able to get this opportunity and just happy for our kids, our school and our community. We don’t make the playoffs often, so we’ll have the chance to go down and represent Dreher High School.”
Sullivan said his staff scouted Berkeley and prepared for this week’s playoff game in anticipation of a decision in their favor.
The restrictive probation imposed by the appellate panel prevents the teams from competing in seven-on-seven camps, passing leagues and invitationals in the summer of 2015. The teams can play in jamborees and scrimmages in the 2015 preseason.
Legal representation for Camden pointed out that paragraph 16 of the league’s rules and regulations on unsportsmanlike conduct indicates that “In all situations of unsportsmanlike conduct committed by the school’s coaches, bench personnel, and/or players, sanctions should be issued against the individuals, as opposed to the entire team, if at all possible.”
Based on that point, panel member Otis Rawl made the motion to downgrade the penalties.
“It’s unfortunate that anything escalates to this issue, but to penalize kids that weren’t involved and also some kids next year that weren’t involved seems a bit overreaching to me,” Rawl said. “We shouldn’t penalize the kids that weren’t involved.”
Dreher made its appeal during a closed session.
“We have so many fine young men that will be pleased to hear this decision, and we are eager for them to get a chance to move forward,” Dreher principal Jeanne Stiglbauer said.
The appellate panel did not alter any other aspects of the sanctions imposed on the 20 involved players or the fines levied against both teams.