These fancy, new video boards are now all the rage at high school football stadiums. They aren’t as big as the “Jaybotron” former Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs was so proud of installing at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but they are still impossible to ignore at schools like Saraland, St. Paul’s and now Spanish Fort.
The one just installed at UMS-Wright may be the largest in the state. Drivers traveling Old Shell Road might mistake the back of it as a billboard you’d typically see on the interstate.
These boards are good for a few things. They show replays, generate revenue by allowing sponsors to advertise between the action and they are great during the pregame buildup. The best part of that process is the players get to introduce themselves as members of the starting lineup.
The prerecorded messages go something like this: Joe Smith, senior, safety, No. 12. Except at UMS-Wright each introduction includes this one more piece of information about each player: how many years each player has attended UMS-Wright.
For a huge majority of the players that means first grade or even kindergarten. There are certainly some who transfer into the private school in middle school, and some of those are stars on the football team.
But there is a tiny percentage of players who transferred in after starting high school. That’s true on this year’s team, which has won a state-best 22 straight games, and it’s been true during the almost 20 years of this Bulldog dynasty that now includes seven state championships since 2001 and 17 region titles since 1996.
The same is true for other successful private schools, where there are very few examples of star high school players transferring in.
There are certainly no examples of players beginning the season at one school then competing for another school in the same season such has been the case with some public school-to-public school transfers. There’s even the recent example of a star player playing against the same opponent twice in the same regular season because of a midseason transfer.
That last example spits in the face of what high school sports are supposed to be about. But if the protocol is followed – such as the entire family establishing new residency in the new school district – there is nothing illegal about the practice.
That brings us to the case of the 2019 Daphne Trojans, who are now officially 0-3 and on the brink of having their consecutive playoff streak snapped at 21 years. The Trojans haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997.
This wasn’t supposed to be the year that streak was broken, especially after Daphne so completely dominated rival Spanish Fort in Week 2. But the 35-7 win was forfeited when Daphne was found to have played an ineligible player.
The Trojans lost not because they were trying to cheat. They lost because of a clerical error.
Here’s the short version of what happened. A high school player decided to transfer from UMS-Wright to Daphne. He could legally play the first year after arriving at Daphne. But he wasn’t allowed to play in the Daphne spring game prior to the 2019 – 2020 school year beginning. He did play in the meaningless scrimmage, which meant he should have been suspended for the first two games of the following season. He missed the opening game because of injury but then played in Game 2 against Spanish Fort.
When made aware of the mistake, Daphne head coach and athletics director Kenny King announced the Trojans would forfeit the biggest win of his coaching career. In his statement about the forfeiture, King said “it matters not who reported the violation.”
Many people disagree with that assessment. In fact, how this information came to light is at the center of this ugly controversy.
But King is right that the responsibility is his to make sure every player on the roster is eligible. The Alabama High School Athletic Association rule could not be more clear about when the player in question was legally cleared to participate for the Trojans.
King the athletic director let down King the football coach and his players.
There’s a reason why the practice of football coaches also serving as athletics directors is now a thing of the past at the college level. The same should be true in high school, where very few people are able to juggle both jobs effectively.
In the aftermath of the forfeiture to Spanish Fort, Daphne was not competitive in a loss to No. 1 Saraland, which would have been a solid favorite over the Trojans even without the distractions of the week.
Can the Trojans turn the season around? It’s going to be difficult, in part because there is still so much talk about the win over Spanish Fort that wasn’t.
That’s sad for a group of kids who worked so hard to convincingly beat their rivals. Winning or losing games because of bookkeeping can’t be what any reasonable person wants to see high school sports become.
Randy Kennedy has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years. Follow him on Twitter: @kennedy_randy.
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