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Murphy: GHSA coming down hard on transfers

POSTED: October 30, 2011 11:04 p.m.

The Georgia High School Association has taken a firm stand against any move deemed to be ineligible by a football player, or what we call transfers in everyday language. Twice in the current month, a pair of member schools (Dalton and Athens Christian) had to vacate wins and in both cases seriously hampering their chances of making the state playoffs.

To make a long story short in the Athens Christian case, exchange student Travis Wildgoose, originally from the Bahamas, was ruled to have skipped some of the steps in becoming an eligible student athlete. As a result, the school was forced on Oct. 19 to forfeit three wins from three games in which he played since joining the team in Week 2.

However, Athens Christian coach Steve Brooks told the Athens Banner-Herald that Wildgoose was not allowed to join the team until they were assured he was eligible to play.

The other case involved Dalton High linebacker Corey Smith, who moved in from Southeast Whitfield High. The GHSA confirmed its ruling last Friday in an appeals hearing, one the school had to pay for out of its own pocket. His move was ruled illegal from one district to another and not based on a legitimate move, thus labeled a "migrant" student. As a result Dalton High had to forfeit four wins from earlier in the season.

While the circumstances surrounding these cases were very different, the decision handed down by executive director Ralph Swearngin was swift and sets a clear precedent: the letter of the bylaws must be followed to be allowed onto the playing field.

"To be eligible to play, all family members must move front the residence and vacate the property into the new school district," Swearngin said Sunday. "If they move back into the residence within a 12-month period, then that student athlete is ineligible to play."

Swearngin said rulings on student eligibility are being made all the time, but rarely involve schools having to vacate wins like in these two cases.

He said the rules surrounding these issues are really cut and dry.

But try telling that to the folks at Athens Christian. The school maintains it has used the same exchange program for 15 years and brought in a number of recent students from the Bahamas under the same program.

They were all eligible to play. The school also told the Athens Banner-Herald that transcripts clearly showed Wildgoose completed his junior year in 2011, leaving him with one final year of high school eligibility.

Issues surrounding Wildgoose's eligibility were only brought to light when newspaper reports from the Freeport News surfaced referring to the student as a senior last year, and him stating that 2011 as his final year at the school. There appears to be a lot more of a grey area with this story than the GHSA would like to admit.

I must admit that on a scale of moral outrage, students transferring from one school to another doesn't rate very high on my list. Frankly, it doesn't bother me at all. However, after looking at both of these cases and talking briefly with Swearngin, I see his side that the GHSA has a job to do and enforcing rules to the best of its abilities. And since the GHSA doesn't have a huge staff, they aren't going to be able to find uncover every transgression.

One of the GHSA's main objectives has to be preserve integrity with the sports to maintain as level a playing field as possible.

You can be the judge.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com.



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