Hilton Head Island High School football coach Tim Singleton ignored his athletics director's instructions to stop allowing several transfer students to participate in preseason drills and scrimmages, according to several sources -- an accusation that, if true, could lead to yet more S.C. High School League sanctions for the Seahawks.
First-year athletics director Mark Karen told Singleton on Aug. 12 to stop allowing the transfer players to participate because they had not yet been cleared by the High School League, multiple sources told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. However, Singleton allowed them to play in a scrimmage later that day, the sources said.
Karen declined comment Friday.
Some of the sources also say that Singleton vehemently denied to school and district officials that Karen told him the players had not been declared eligible. The coach had no comment after the Seahawks defeated Hardeeville High School 28-12 Friday in his return from a school-imposed two-week suspension for using the not-yet-eligible players.
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Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said Friday she would not comment on a personnel matter.
More penalties looming?
Hilton Head High's athletics department has been fined twice this school year by the High School League for violating eligibility rules.
The school self-reported to the High School League that it allowed at least two players to participate in an Aug. 12 scrimmage against Colleton County. One of those players had not yet enrolled, exposing the team, school and district to liability because he was not covered by the district's insurance policy, superintendent Valerie Truesdale has said.
While the school awaited a ruling, it suspended Singleton from football duties for two weeks.
The High School League on Aug. 24 fined Hilton Head High $200 and placed its athletics program on "warned status" for allowing Ridgeland High School transfer Justin Jenkins to compete before he was ruled eligible.
That week, the Packet and the Gazette discovered transfer student Philip Harris, his mother and sister had moved into a Hilton Head Island apartment owned by Singleton but that his stepfather still lived in the family's Hardeeville home. High School League rules require an athlete's family to completely vacate its previous residence before he or she is eligible to participate at another school.
Hilton Head High and the High School League determined Harris therefore was not eligible when he played in the Seahawks' season-opener against Bluffton High School The High School League fined the school an additional $500 and placed the football program on "restrictive probation" for one year, meaning it cannot participate in preseason scrimmages or jamborees next season.
High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton, who is not related to Tim Singleton, said earlier this week the Seahawks "absolutely" would be penalized again -- and more severely -- if the school knowingly allowed the transfer students to participate before they were cleared.
The penalty for knowingly using an ineligible player includes a fine or suspension of the school, program or team, according to the High School League's constitution. In lieu of suspension, the league's executive committee can fine the school $2,500 for each ineligible player used and put a program or team on probation for a year.
Hilton Head High reported only that the team had possibly allowed athletes not yet deemed eligible to play; it did not indicate they were knowingly allowed to do so, according to Jerome Singleton.
More information sought
The Packet and Gazette have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Beaufort County School District to view recent email exchanges between Karen, O'Nan and chief instructional services officer Sean Alford, whose duties include supervision of the district's athletics departments.
District spokesman Jim Foster has indicated emails regarding Singleton and the use of ineligible players are being vetted by attorneys in response to the request. The emails have not yet been released because they raise "student-privacy and liability issues," Foster said Friday, declining to elaborate.
South Carolina's FOIA gives public bodies 15 business days to respond to a request. It must cite a lawful exemption from disclosure if the request is denied in full or in part.
The district's response is due Monday.
Follow sports reporter Sam McDowell at twitter.com/MatchPointBft.