Ryan Cherry is once again able to play for the Hilton Head Island High baseball team. But his approved hardship waiver by the S.C. High School League didn't come without a price.
The Seahawks were fined $2,100 Tuesday afternoon, principal Amanda O'Nan said, and were also required to forfeit the seven games in which Cherry dressed out for before the infractions became known. The school plans to appeal the ruling in the coming days, O'Nan confirmed.
"Obviously, we don't want adult actions to hurt the kids involved with the team," she said. "So we're going to appeal based on the fact that I think it's for the best interest for the entire baseball team."
SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said he approved Cherry's hardship waiver after considering "a lot of things" that the school sent him in the previous days. Singleton wanted to be clear that while the hardship allows Cherry to play, it in no way changes the fact that he was previously ineligible under the rules.
"He was not ruled eligible at all," he said. "They asked for a hardship to be granted moving forward."
Singleton noted that whenever it is possible to preserve a student's eligiblity, he will try to do so given the information at hand. Hilton Head High's argument allowed him to do that.
" ... I decided based on the information I had to make him eligible," he said.
Cherry dressed for the first time Tuesday in Hilton Head High's 1-0 loss to Richmond County (N.C.). He warmed up and was scheduled to be the first pitcher out of the bullpen but failed to enter the game as Jake Kizer went the distance.
"I'm glad to be out here," he said. "I just didn't understand why I would have to sit out through all of this. So I'm glad that I can play again."
Cherry said players and coaches have been supportive of him since his eligibility first came into question. He's hopeful that Hilton Head High's appeal will be successful, he added.
"I think we should definitely appeal that because it would pretty much destroy our season," he said. "If they do that and we can't (win the) appeal, we're definitely going to have to work hard for a chance to go to the playoffs.
"We've just got to take it step by step (and) see how the appeal goes because I'm not sure about how all of that happens. I'm just sitting here (thinking), 'When am I going to play?' "
O'Nan and athletics director Joe Monmonier will soon travel to Columbia to meet with the SCHSL executive committee in an attempt to lessen the incurred penalties. O'Nan said she would likely know when that meeting will take place within the next two days.
An appeal last April allowed the Seahawks to successfully lower a $6,000 fine by $500 after the baseball program played five ineligible players in a spring break tournament. If Hilton Head High is unable to get this latest fine lowered, however, the Seahawks baseball team will have been charged a total of $7,600 in the last calendar year.
"It's one of those things where it's nothing they did," interim coach Blair Carson said. "Playing baseball is what they're out here for. All the other adult stuff is out of their hands. I just want them to enjoy it, play hard for each other and leave that up to people that make that call."
O'Nan said she was unsure where the $2,100 will come from to pay this fine but noted that it will not be taken from student activities or fundraising money.
"Obviously the school is fully responsible for paying for the fine," she said. "So it will not be fundraising money or student activity money. So at this moment, obviously I've got to figure out where it's going to come from. But I can't take it away from the kids."
The forfeitures, meanwhile, could drop Hilton Head High from 10-2 overall and 5-1 in Region 8-AAA to 3-9 and 1-5. If the forfeited games are not overturned, the Seahawks could have to win out in region play in order to qualify for the Class 3-A playoffs.
"There's nothing we can do about it," Kizer said. "The only thing we can do is do our job, keep playing hard and win the games we've got left. Just have as much fun the rest of the season as we can and make the community look good."
Cherry's eligibility first came into question two weeks ago after the league discovered he pitched over the summer for the American Legion Post 185 team, the Lowcountry Heat. The SCHSL determined that Seahawks coach Chris Wells was a coach for that club, contradicting rules that a player must sit out a year should he transfer to the school of a coach for which he played for on an outside team. Cherry transferred from Bluffton to Hilton Head High before the 2012-13 academic year.
Wells resigned last Thursday in an attempt to lessen the penalties from the SCHSL. The coach of the Seahawks for 15 years said in a statement that he hoped the self-sanction would be enough for Singleton as he determined a ruling.
"My resignation (Thursday) serves as a message to the SCHSL that the student-athletes come first as they decide the severity of the consequences against the baseball program," Wells said.
O'Nan will likely have to argue that self-sanction once more in Columbia in the hopes of lowering the penalties handed down by Singleton.
"They're the governing body for athletics," she said. "Clearly there was a violation, so whether I'm agreeing with it or not, we've got to take the consequences and we'll appeal it. I just don't want it to hurt students in the process."