COLUMBIA -- Amid a throng of disappointment, one voice quietly cheered here Monday afternoon.
More than 50 Goose Creek supporters showed up at the S.C. High School League headquarters to listen in on the fate of their school's football team, which was temporarily barred from the postseason last week after it was discovered that the Gators had been using an ineligible player.
The SCHSL executive committee, meeting to discuss the issue for the second time in five days, debated with Goose Creek officials for an emotional and empassioned 2 1/2 hours before deciding on their football future once more. The league, which voted against the Gators' initial appeal last week, upheld its decision with a 14-0 vote before shooting down Goose Creek's mercy plea by a 12-2 margin.
The ruling once again knocked the undefeated and nationally ranked Gators out of the Class 4-A Division II playoffs. Stepping in their place is Bluffton, which will travel to Northwestern this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
As hands raised against Goose Creek's playoff hopes, the Gators faithful moaned and cried in the background. But one person struggled to fight back a different kind of tears.
"Tears were about to come down my face," said Talley Young, a student at Bluffton. "I guess of course I'm biased because I go to Bluffton High and the same emotion they're feeling for their team getting taken away from them was the same vulnerability that we felt going in."
Young, the Bobcats' homecoming queen this year, called quarterback C.J. Frazier after the league's ruling. With the other end of the call on speaker and the team gathered around, Young relayed the league's decision to a jubiliant group of Bobcats.
"They just all screamed," Young said with a smile. "They didn't even have words."
"They didn't say a lot, but the brightness in their eyes said it all," Bluffton coach ken Cribb said. "They were a little giddy this afternoon. They were bouncing around. They know it's an opportunity, that another door just opened."
The feelings weren't so joyous for others. Goose Creek supporter Danita Brown told the committee after it returned from executive session that they were sending the wrong message to high school students. Others like Monica Downing took a more somber approach to voice their frustrations.
"I feel for the players because this is not their fault," she said with teary eyes. "They didn't do anything wrong and they should be allowed to play in the playoffs and finish this season. One more playoff game would have been Friday night and then state."
The Gators, who self reported the violation last week, went before the SCHSL last Wednesday to first appeal their disqualification. After being shot down by a 10-1 vote and a 9-2 mercy ruling, the Gators took the matter to court.
The move paid off when S.C. 9th District Circuit Court Judge Roger Young ruled that Goose Creek could play the Bobcats while forcing the SCHSL to reconvene on Monday to review the case again, after the executive committee violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding the appeal behind closed doors. Goose Creek went on to beat Bluffton, 35-25.
But new information arose this time around. The SCHSL discovered that the player, who has been dubbed "John Doe" during this process, was defined as a senior last year while attending Berkeley High. They also noted that the player's one year at Generations Home -- an incarcerated facility in Simpsonville -- from 2008-2009 counted toward his eligibility clock, as his credits there transferred over to other schools.
The information meant that Doe, who technically began high school in 2008, had exhausted his four years of eligibility. In turn, the Gators will now have to forfeit the games in which Doe played this season, despite their plea that the football program helped change his life. Goose Creek's lawyer -- Ken Harrell -- spoke at length about the student's trying background, which included a troubled childhood and a learning disability.
"I don't have anything to say right now," Gators coach Chuck Reedy said. "Y'all were in there, you heard it. They have a lot of sympathy and a lot of mercy, don't they?"
Goose Creek principal Jimmy Huskey did not rule out a return to court. A press conference laying out the next step for the Gators will be held at 1 p.m. today at Goose Creek High.
"We thought it was a great case that was not about the children doing anything wrong," Huskey said. "It was just not heard. We have to go back and teach our children that sometimes life is not fair."
More legal action means little to the Bobcats, though.
"I feel like there's nothing left to do," Cribb said. "They don't have a leg to stand on. They got a hometown judge, and all they came away with was he ordered them to have the hearing again because they violated the Freedom Of Information Act by holding a closed session.
"I feel like anything that could have been done would have been done today, but they got voted down unanimously, begged for mercy and were voted down 12-2. I think they've exhausted all options, done all they can."
The team took the practice field Monday afternoon following the hearing and will prepare for Northwestern until told otherwise.
"I heard (the students) were watching (the appeal) on the promethean boards at school live," Bluffton athletics director Dave Adams said. "When it was announced, the kids went running all over the hallways. I just hate I wasn't there when they found out."
Adams received word via text messages while attending a meeting in Beaufort. He said he believed the ruling would be upheld but tempered expectations due to the uncertainty of the situation.
"Most of the coaches I talked to around the state felt like it was the right thing," he said. "You have to play by the rules. I hate what happened, they didn't mean to do that. But it is what it is. A rule was broken and you have to pay the consequences."