In its first season of competition at the Class 4-A level, the Bluffton High School volleyball team rolled to a Region 8-AAAA championship and hosted two rounds of the Lower State playoffs before falling 3-2 to Lexington on Oct. 25.
But a violation of S.C. High School League rules means the Bobcats have been forced to forfeit some late regular-season matches and pay a fine.
The Bobcats played four preseason scrimmages against teams from the Savannah area over three dates in August, something coach Al Stern said his team has been doing for nine years.
Since the season begins two weeks earlier in Georgia, the games were counted as regular-season contests by the Georgia schools, while Bluffton counted them as scrimmages.
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During the final week of the regular season, the SCHSL informed Stern that wasn't allowed.
"We've never made a secret of it," Stern said. "It's good competition to play the Savannah schools. Out of nowhere, the S.C. High School League said, 'That's illegal, those are real matches.' "
S.C. High School League associate commissioner Dru Nix said this was the first time the league had been made aware of the practice.
"(Bluffton's) interpretation is not the correct interpretation. Whatever the match is for the host team is what it has to be," Nix said. "You can't have one team calling it one thing and the other calling it something else. If it's a scrimmage for one team, it has to be for both teams. If it's a regular-season match, it has to be for both teams."
Since the games previously counted as scrimmages must be counted as regular-season contests, Bluffton went over the 18 play dates allowed by the SCHSL. Any games on the schedule after 18 play dates must be forfeited.
Stern referred questions regarding the fine levied against the Bobcats to Bluffton athletics director Dave Adams, who did not answer questions, instead referring all inquiries to Beaufort County Schools chief student services officer Gregory McCord.
McCord confirmed Bluffton was fined $1,000 and said the school would not appeal the decision.
The penalties do not affect Bluffton's standing as the Region 8-AAAA champion.
The Bobcats gain four wins over Savannah Country Day, Savannah Christian, South Effingham and St. Vincent's. And Bluffton has to forfeit wins over Ashley Ridge, Hilton Head Island and First Baptist from the final three play dates on its regular-season schedule.
The Bobcats' final record goes from 38-9-2 to 39-12-2.
"It's not like we were trying to do something sneaky," Stern said. "We've done this for years."