As I write this, I am so ecstatic. I feel like that warm, August morning in 1994 when my parents picked me up from my first period high school class to buy my first car, or like the first home run I hit as a 12-year-old, or even when I got to perform in Carnegie Hall. Why? Read on.
The Bradwell girls basketball team makes history tonight in what can truly be called, “The Game of the Century.”
They’re part of something that hasn’t happened in Georgia in 100 years, they host Grovetown High in the “Tiger Den” in the Sweet 16 at 7 p.m., for a berth in the Elite 8 when both had already been eliminated from the playoffs?
Coach Faye Baker, a BI and Georgia Southern athletic alumnus, assistant coaches Vivian Shipman-Harris, Dana King Sr. and Aaron Scott, Bradwell Athletic Director Ken Griffin and Principal Toriano Gilbert, led their team and school in a precedent-setting game that may represent an everlasting positive change in the face of Georgia high school athletics.
Griffin agrees. “For years I have heard ‘what used to be,’” he said. “Well, tonight is another night of ‘what used to be.’ Tonight is the night our community can show their pride in the athletic programs in Liberty County. That will be my satisfaction.”
Coach Baker was in Griffin’s office at 3:30 on Monday when he got the phone call. They had no idea the call was coming.
“At first, I thought it was a hoax,” Baker said. “I told team Captain Esperanza Castro to put it on the team chat. Some of them were at track practice. Some were at club meetings. They came flying in my room all big-eyed. They thought it was a hoax, too. We actually had a practice at 5 with all but two players.”
So, just how did this happen?
According to the Georgia High School Association and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Tucker High School girls team, with coach J.J. Oliver and Tucker booster/Georgia Pistols AAU basketball coach Robert Stanard, is in violation of GHSA bylaw 1.70, Recruiting and Undue Influence, which set up this game tonight. In a nutshell, Tucker was removed from the playoffs. Bradwell and Grovetown, previous playoff losers to Tucker, were added back in, producing this historic event tonight.
To be clear, I’m not ecstatic because adults made horrible decisions or Tucker stole an Elite 8 berth from Bradwell. I am ecstatic because as the old saying goes, “The good Lord giveth and the good Lord taketh away.”
Tucker got an Elite 8 berth based off lies and deceit. Well, the GHSA taketh away that berth by doing the right thing and doing something that had not been done in this state since 1922.
No, it’s not a misprint. They removed a team from an on-going state playoff and placed back in the teams that deserved to be there, Bradwell and Grovetown.
I am ecstatic because the GHSA finally did the right thing — drop the hammer!
We’ve all heard the statewide stories of ego-boosting violations — adults clamoring for wins by allowing players to move in for six months with a friend or relative, or simply faking an address and putting their own children right in the middle of it.
I’m glad to say I’m part of a Bradwell school that includes leaders like AD Griffin and Principal Gilbert. Griffin takes a strong stance against things like these and demands his coaches do as well.
You see, that’s kind of what public high school sports is all about. Kids growing up in their communities, going to school with their friends, playing in their recreation leagues, supported by their families, friends and tax dollars. If they’re fortunate enough when it’s all said and done, they get to spend their high school years wearing a jersey that has their community name on it, the same community that has supported them for as much as 18 years.
When it says “Bradwell” on a jersey or “Liberty County,” or my South Carolina hometown of Batesburg-Leesville, that is a privilege.
I remember being so proud to wear my hometown’s name, “Batesburg-Leesville,” for four years on the baseball field. I still have that jersey and all-star jerseys from younger years at “B-L” and even Newberry, where I spent my first 12 years.
You can probably tell by now, I have an extremely strong opinion on this subject. It’s because I’ve been a part of all sides of youth/high school athletics since I was 4 years old. Whether it was as a player, coach, umpire, broadcaster, writer, commissioner, grounds crew member or just a fan, I’ve always been loyal to my hometown.
I remember getting emotional my freshman year at South Carolina, when the then 12-year-old all-star team from Batesburg-Leesville won its first ever district title and went on to state at Myrtle Beach. Years later, I was fortunate enough to coach a 14-year-old team that accomplished the same feat — all representing our hometown.
My first tough experience, though, was watching my younger brother’s Batesburg-Leesville baseball team lose a potential state title to Bishop England High in Charleston. When they read their starting line-up, it was like they were reading a college line-up of players with hometowns in Virginia, Florida, Georgia and several other states. But, they didn’t break any rules. They were a private school that South Carolina high school rules allowed to play in the public league. I still was sick to my stomach watching my brother’s team lose a hard-fought game.
I thought, “Why in the world do we get to invest in our younger brothers for so long, only to play a team that plays on a different playing field?”
That same sickness fell over me during last week’s game against Tucker, calling the play-by-play on Lowcountryradio.com.
We knew the investigation had just begun days earlier after a Tucker parent first reported the violation. I could not even call them Tucker on the radio.
I referred to them as “The all-star team from Atlanta that wears burgundy jerseys,” because they were in no way a representation of Tucker High. And then they walk into our gym and beat Bradwell seniors like Damiani Depriest, Mya’ Gilliard, Sabria Green and Tamia Clark, ladies that this community has invested in for two decades, only to end their career knowing they lost to a team that cheated by using players the Tucker High community had not invested in.
Well, GHSA has now set a precedent.
Griffin agrees. “This may be GHSA taking the stand most schools have wanted them to address for years. I am sure most service areas that have multiple high schools have experienced recruiting violations. In the past, not much has ever happened with it,” he said. “If this is the new stand of GHSA, I think there may be fewer violations of this manner.”
Baker said, “It won’t totally stop all of it, but it puts everyone on notice and makes a coach think twice. It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction, one that’s never been taken before.”
“I’m glad we do things right at Bradwell,” she said. “As coaches, we know we have to set an example that is much more than wins and losses. What they learn with us here at Bradwell will last them much longer than now.”
People of Hinesville and surrounding communities, I hope you pack the “Tiger Den” tonight. I promise you two teams will give it everything they have after having so much stolen away — and it will set the precedent — do things the right way, or don’t do them at all.
“Let’s roll, Tiger nation.”
Moon is a teacher at BI and calls the games on Lowcountryradio.com.