DALTON, Ga. - The Georgia High School Association announced Wednesday morning that Dalton High School used an ineligible player and will have to forfeit four games.
Senior linebacker Corey Smith played at Southeast Whitfield High School his first three years. Dr. Ralph Swearngin, executive secretary of the GHSA, ruled that Smith had not properly changed addresses into the Dalton City Schools system.
Dalton High Principal Debbie Freeman said the school will appeal.
"We believe strongly that we painted a clear picture of a complex situation to the GHSA that demonstrated that Dalton High School followed reasonable precautions regarding this player's living situation," Freeman said at a morning news conference at Harmon Field.
"Dr. Swearngin's ruling is based on his belief that every precaution was not taken; therefore, we will begin the appeals process soon," she said.
It's the second such ruling in the region in the last two weeks. Signal Mountain was forced by the TSSAA to vacate six games for playing an ineligible athlete.
Barring an overturn of the ruling, the Catamounts' record goes from 6-2 to 2-6 after forfeiting wins against Gilmer County, Murray County and league foes Heritage and Ridgeland. Dalton, now 2-2 in Region 7A-AAA, would need to defeat Southeast and have Heritage lose to Ridgeland to finish in one of the top three subregion crossover play-in games.
The top three teams in the A subregion and B subregion will meet next Friday to determine the region's four playoff teams.
Dalton High head coach Matt Land said his team will move forward with that goal in mind.
"My concern, as always, is with our football team and how we will move forward," said Land. "We have a game this Friday night and the opponent is not our major concern. As far as this team and the character of this team, what I learned a long time ago is that while many people believe the record makes the men, I believe it's the men who make the record."
Freeman spoke harshly of the Southeast Whitfield administration. She said it withheld information concerning Smith as long as it could, to do maximum damage to Dalton's season. Unless the ruling is overturned, Dalton's streak of 51 consecutive seasons of winning football is over.
"I expected more courtesy and consideration from another district and am disappointed in the actions of the reporting school's administration," Freeman said. "I went into education many years ago because of my love of young people, and I thought other educators shared that same interest, but on Oct. 14 that changed for me."
She said Southeast High Principal Brian Satterfield filed the complaint that day but told her he had known about the irregularity since Oct. 5.
"Had Southeast contacted anyone at Dalton High School as soon as he knew, we would have handled this situation immediately. Dalton then would be forfeiting fewer games," Freeman said. "My wish is that Southeast had handled the situation differently, but they didn't, and now this incident has changed the lives of this young man, his family, this school and this community."
Messages left at Southeast Whitfield for Satterfield were not returned late Wednesday.
Freeman said Smith decided to transfer because his family was caught up in the poor economic situation left by the recession.