Whale Branch and Ridgeland high schools each will be short-handed for the next two games and face minor sanctions, but both avoided the dreaded postseason ban when the S.C. High School League handed down its penalty for an incident at the end of last week's game at Whale Branch.
The Region 5-A contest was ended with 16 seconds left Sept. 30, when players from both teams left their benches and spilled onto the field. Video of the incident was submitted to the High School League, which made its ruling Thursday.
Multiple players from both schools were suspended, High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said, and both schools were fined an undisclosed amount. Whale Branch also was placed on "restrictive probation" -- meaning it will be limited to two preseason scrimmages next season, rather than four -- and Ridgeland was placed on "warned status." Both of those sanctions are in place for one calendar year.
Singleton said he took into account actions the schools had already taken when handing down the penalties, but he declined to elaborate.
Whale Branch principal Priscilla Drake said the school suspended four Warriors players from school and related activities for the entire week -- including tonight's game at Branchville -- while awaiting the ruling, and a ball boy was disassociated from the team. After the High School League's ruling, the players were suspended for an additional game.
"We've been proactive with this thing and not sat around and waited for the (High School League)," Drake said. "This is an educational moment for our kids. It's an opportunity to learn."
Drake referred questions about the players who were suspended to athletics director Carlos Cave, but he could not be reached for comment.
James Gardner, the athletics director for Jasper County Schools, also was unsure of the Ridgeland players suspended, referring questions to coach Richard Kirkland, who declined to comment.