High school football coaches have been begging for uniformity in regards to likely schedule changes.
What they got instead was something many of them have deemed a “gag order.”
During the annual virtual meeting with coaches on July 29, the S.C. High School League informed coaches that any negative commentary on traditional or social media regarding the governing body or an increasingly difficult referee crisis would be met with consequences, including fines.
SCHSL Associate Commissioner Charlie Wentzky said it was a predetermined portion of the overall presentation, one crafted back in June and that has been in place with the league for years.
However, with emotions heightened due to COVID-19 and mass quarantines, not to mention schedules changing numerous times each day, many of the 11 coaches around the state who spoke to MyHorryNews.com on the condition of anonymity considered it an unconstitutional threat by an organization that isn’t doing enough to lead heading into another school year.
“It’s bull [expletive]. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the job,” one coach said. “If a parent wants to say something about me on social media, I can’t bench their kid because of it.”
Wentzky pointed to sections of the SCHSL athletics directors handbook on sportsmanlike and unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as another on fines. However, even those portions are vague. A $100 fine can be assessed for “Unsportsmanlike actions by players, coaches or spectators,” although it isn’t specified whether that is solely in-game or outside of a contest. Another section states “Coaches must exemplify through their own actions and behavior an acceptable example of good sportsmanship and conduct.”
The High School League considers disparaging remarks as part of those clauses, even though it is never declared.
Otherwise, the SCHSL mandate is fairly typical. Statewide athletics associations around the nation have enacted specific language regarding this issue. Most NCAA conferences have something similar in place. However, what multiple coaches said was that those organizations have typically provided more direction.
“I’m not really sure what the SCHSL constitution says about that topic,” another coach said. “But I do know every coach I talk to wants leadership and guidance from the top during these unprecedented times.”
Recently, that has been the basis for coaches’ frustration.
Last week, seven days after the language reminder during the coaches’ meeting, the SCHSL distributed a memo to member schools, urging them to move their region football games to earlier dates in the regular season. However, it stopped short of mandating a statewide or even classification-wide set of dates, leaving coaches and athletics directors scrambling in a should-we or should-we-not scenario that could cost schools games and thousands of dollars.
Some athletics directors and coaches have previously said they had no choice but to move region games to the front of the season, like they did in 2020. Others believed it was too late in the calendar to do so out of fear of losing chances for high-profile non-region games, the all-important region contests or both.
What is clear is that games will be lost, mirroring the trend of scrimmages this preseason.
On Wednesday morning, North Myrtle Beach was the latest Horry County varsity program to be placed in quarantine after positive tests and exposures. The Chiefs joined Green Sea Floyds and St. James in the currently quarantined list. Loris returned from its own order this week, and Myrtle Beach lost the first two days of preseason camp after an exposure during July conditioning.
Georgetown County’s Waccamaw, normally the 10th participant in the CNB Kickoff Classic, also backed out of Friday’s jamboree at Coastal Carolina’s Brooks Stadium after entering quarantine. The event is still on as of now, but with just six teams.
Although an updated count is not yet known, Horry County Schools said 222 student-athletes from around the district were in quarantine as of Monday. Since then, at least four more teams have been hit with quarantines.
Wentzky said the SCHSL does not keep up with the total number of quarantined teams until the season, when it is responsible for scheduling officials. According to news reports from various pockets of the state, MyHorryNews.com has tallied more than 30 varsity football teams having already been subjected to quarantine from the first week of July through Wednesday morning.
It’s created a mad scramble to re-shape a season that is having a seemingly tougher time getting off the ground than anyone was prepared for.
Region VI-4A, which includes North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, voted Wednesday to leave its schedule as is, at least for now. Region VI-5A, made up of Horry County teams Carolina Forest, Conway, St. James and Socastee and Sumter, is set to vote today, with members of the region so far split on an action.
As of Wednesday morning, at least three Class A regions (Region III, IV and V, the last of which includes Green Sea Floyds) moved the start of their region slate to either September 3 or September 10.
While others decide their own path and likely find more frustration along the way, the SCHSL isn’t hiding from its late-July edict.
“We haven’t addressed it in a couple of years. But we want to help them stay out of harm’s way on the front end,” Wentzky said. “If we cause them to pause for a second and think, that’s what we intend to do.”