Emails raise questions about HHH's report to High School League

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Emails raise questions about HHH's report to High School League

By SAM McDOWELL and JEFF KIDD
smcdowell@islandpacket.com
jkidd@beaufortgazette.com

Published Tuesday, September 13, 2011   |  1493 Words  |  

A day after Hilton Head Island High School self-reported possible eligibility infractions by its football team to the state's governing body for athletics, the Seahawks' athletics director questioned why some information was left out of the report.

In emails obtained Monday by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, Mark Karen asked school principal Amanda O'Nan why the report she prepared for the S.C. High School League didn't include his claim that he told coach Tim Singleton to stop allowing transfer students to participate in preseason scrimmages, but that the coach did just that later the same day.

The email exchange provided by the school district did not include a response from the principal. O'Nan said Monday that information was reported in a later telephone conversation with High School League officials, a claim disputed by the league's commissioner.

Beaufort County School District's instructional services officer Sean Alford, who helped O'Nan draft the report to the High School League, said Monday the information was not included in the letter because Singleton disputed Karen's claim he was told to sideline the players.

The school district provided 70 pages of correspondence -- some of it heavily redacted -- in response to the newspapers' request to view email correspondence between O'Nan, Karen and Alford regarding the eligibility issues.

An earlier email from Karen to O'Nan and Alford noted the penalty for knowingly using an ineligible player could include a $2,500 fine or probation.

The High School League initially fined the school $200 for allowing a player who was not yet enrolled to play in a scrimmage. The school was fined another $500 and banned from preseason scrimmages and jamborees next season after the Packet and Gazette discovered the family of another transfer student didn't completely vacate its previous residence, rendering the student ineligible to play for Hilton Head High.

The emails indicate nine transfer players were among those whose eligibility had not been confirmed when the Seahawks traveled Aug. 12 to a scrimmage at Colleton County High School. Karen says in emails that he told Singleton earlier that day not to play several transfers until their eligibility issues were resolved. When he called the school's athletics trainer later that evening, though, he was informed that at least one of those players, a running back, had already racked up about "a dozen carries."

Singleton declined comment Monday, but Karen, in another email, acknowledged the coach disputed his claim during a meeting Aug. 15 that also included O'Nan and Alford.

TIP SPARKS INVESTIGATION

Uncertainty about the eligibility of some of the Seahawks' transfer students began after Karen received an anonymous tip that he should check the address for Philip Harris -- the player later determined to be ineligible to play for Hilton Head High this season.

Karen said in an email that he discovered the address listed on a rental agreement in Harris' guidance folder, included as proof of residence, was slightly different from the one provided on a High School League eligibility form turned in by the Seahawks football coaching staff.

Karen checked Beaufort County property records and discovered Singleton owned the apartment, according to a summary of the eligibility issues he provided in one email. That summary indicates he told O'Nan what he discovered, and that she, in turn, told Alford. At Alford's instruction, Karen and social worker John Smith went to the address at the Oaks Apartments on Hilton Head and confirmed Harris lived there.

Karen said he met the morning of Aug. 12 with Singleton, who, according to the summary, acknowledged he made a bad decision in renting the apartment to Harris' family. Karen said he called the High School League to confirm such an arrangement was allowable and was told by associate commissioner Dru Nix it violated no rule, as long as the agreement was not part of an attempt to recruit the player to the school.

Karen also informed Nix that the Hilton Head High football team was playing nine transfer players in scrimmages before they had been cleared to play. Nix instructed Karen to stop allowing the players to participate, but she said the school would likely avoid sanctions if the athletes were later cleared, Karen wrote.

At least some of the players appeared in the scrimmage that night.

Confronted by Karen, Singleton at first denied playing the transfers with "a clear no" before acknowledging in a follow-up question that some of them did play, Karen claims in an email.

"When asking Coach Singleton why he played these players based on our conversation that afternoon, his response was that I never told him that he could not play them," Karen wrote. "He told us that when I told him that the transfer players would be okay if they were deemed eligible in the near future, he understood that to mean it was okay to continue to play them against the rules."

WHAT WAS LEFT OUT

That exchange was not included in the school's written report to the High School League dated Aug. 16.

Karen included an account of his conversation with Singleton in a three-page report emailed to O'Nan, Alford and superintendent Valerie Truesdale earlier that day. Alford responded in an email to O'Nan that night that "he needs a one-page letter" and that the report "has to go tonight" because he had indicated to Truesdale the report would be sent by the end of the day.

Much of what Karen wrote -- including his dispute with Singleton about his instructions -- did not make O'Nan's final draft, which roughly followed an outline Alford provided.

Alford said that's because Karen didn't document the conversation, and he wasn't sure exactly what happened.

"I would never include investigation notes in a final report, just like a newspaper reporter wouldn't put all their notes into an article," Alford said.

O'Nan's letter reported "possible" violations. It said Singleton did not know a scrimmage was considered competition -- and that as such, players' eligibility needed to be confirmed -- and that he had not been notified directly that the players in question had been deemed eligible by the High School League.

After reading the report to the High School League the morning after it was sent, Karen asked O'Nan in an email, "Why we did not fully report the facts." Karen said Monday he does not remember receiving a response to that email.

O'Nan said that although that information was omitted from the letter, she told High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton, who is not related to Tim Singleton, that the coach knew the transfer students had not yet been deemed eligible when he allowed them to play in the Aug. 12 scrimmage at Colleton County.

Jerome Singleton acknowledged Monday having a follow-up phone conversation with O'Nan but that "no one ever told me they intentionally played an ineligible player."

"And if they talked to one of my staff members, they would've relayed that information to me and probably requested (the school) to submit it in writing," he added.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Jerome Singleton said late last week the Seahawks would "absolutely" be penalized again -- and perhaps more severely -- if they used a player it knew was not yet eligible.

He backed off that stance a bit Monday and said the High School League would first need to review the case.

"If someone knowingly played an ineligible (player) after we had the first report, we would open it back up for review and it could result in further penalty," Singleton said. "I don't know that it necessarily will, but I think the opportunity is there for it."

O'Nan said Monday that as she awaited the league's initial ruling, she worried the school would be fined the full $2,500 and that "the football program could be in jeopardy."

She suspects the school was handed a less severe ruling because it imposed its own sanctions, she said. The school suspended coach Tim Singleton from football duties for two weeks while it awaited the league's ruling and also pledged to do a better job of teaching High School League rules to coaches and other athletics personnel.

O'Nan and Karen both said Monday they expect no further punishment from the league.

"It's a closed door," O'Nan said. "I've addressed it as a principal. We need to close the door and move on. I've got a school to run, and Mark has an athletics department to run. We need to move past this."

Follow sports reporter Sam McDowell at twitter.com/MatchPointBft.