Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O'Nan has suspended baseball coach Chris Wells indefinitely after possible S.C. High School League violations surfaced late last week.
Wells was absent from the dugout during Monday's 10-2 victory over Hanahan. The suspension was handed down earlier that afternoon, O'Nan said, after she first encountered potential rules violations last Friday.
She could not elaborate on what rules may have been broken.
"I really want to get all my t's crossed and my i's dotted and complete our investigation," she said. "I can tell you it's due to an alleged High School League violation. That's all I really want to go into right now until I get everything completed."
Wells did not answer phone calls related to this story, but did email this statement: "I support my principal's decision to hold me out while we answer the questions from the SCHSL. I trust this will be resolved quickly and the SCHSL will be completely satisfied that all rules were followed by Hilton Head High School and its baseball program. Any further comment by me to the media isn't prudent at this time."
While O'Nan and Wells declined to elaborate on the nature of the violations, they likely stem from the transfer of Ryan Cherry from Bluffton to Hilton Head High following the 2011-12 academic year.
The pitcher was a seldom-used member of last season's American Legion Post 185 team, the Lowcountry Heat. While Chris Seelbach served as the manager, Wells was in an administrative role for the club, handling scheduling and transportation issues, Seelbach said.
SCHSL rules stipulate that a student, "must not have participated on an outside team in which a coach or volunteer coach from the school the student is transferring to coached or had input into the selection of the outside team. The student would be ineligible in that sport only for one calendar year."
Cherry would be ineligible for this season under those rules should the SCHSL determine that Wells was a Lowcountry Heat coach or helped select the team. Cherry has dressed out for all eight of Hilton Head High's games this season and was scheduled to pitch Monday night before being pulled.
Cherry's father said it was Bluffton High that reported the possible violation to the SCHSL.
"I'm disappointed that (they) know why we left there," Mike Cherry said. "They know it had nothing to do with baseball. They're making (my son) the scapegoat for their issue of not being able to keep baseball players there. That's what this is all about and that's what infuriates me."
"I don't blame just Bluffton," he added. "This is an ongoing feud between the two schools that's inappropriate for both of them. This petty [stuff] has got to stop because the only ones that are getting hurt are the kids."
Bobcats athletics director Dave Adams would not address the allegation that Bluffton reported the Seahawks.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to say to respond to that," Adams said. "All I know is if they had an illegal player, the High School League makes the determination whether that player is illegal or not. We don't make it."
Cherry said his son had no contact with Wells prior to this season. His son pitched about one inning for the Heat, he said, and was not present during the game Wells coached in.
"I don't think Chris Wells did anything wrong," Mike Cherry said. "He may have made a judgment call, and maybe he's supposed to know the rules. I don't know all that. I really don't know. But I know he did not recruit us in any way, shape or form."
Wells, who is in his 15th season at Hilton Head High, could be back in the dugout as early as tonight, when the 8-0 Seahawks put their 5-0 Region 8-AAA record on the line at Berkeley. O'Nan said she plans to reach a decision on his suspension as early this afternoon after completing her investigation.
She could not say whether Hilton Head High is facing any financial penalties as a result of the potential violation. Last April, the Seahawks were handed a $5,500 fine after playing five ineligible players in a spring break tournament, contradicting SCHSL rules that stipulate athletes can compete in no more than two tournaments in a given season.
The fine, which was $300 per athlete per game, was lowered by $500 after the school appealed the ruling in late July. The Seahawks could face similar penalties on this issue should the SCHSL rule against them.
"Any time there's a possible High School League violation, it causes you to be concerned," O'Nan said. "Whether it's the first or not the first violation, it causes me concern. We take it very seriously."