Hilton Head Island High School baseball coach Chris Wells and athletics director Joe Monmonier met with players and parents Monday afternoon to address concerns over how the school covered a $5,500 fine the Seahawks drew for playing five ineligible players in a spring break tournament last season.
Hilton Head High was assessed the penalty back in April, when the five players played over four games, contradicting a S.C. High School League rule that stipulates athletes can compete in no more than two tournaments in a given season. The fine for said participation is $300 per athlete per game, which equates to $6,000 in the Seahawks' case.
The penalty was lowered to $5,500 but no further, despite the fact Hilton Head High appealed the ruling in late July after forfeiting all four contests.
SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said a fine of that size was "pretty rare," and that he could not remember the last time such a penalty was handed out.
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"The fine doesn't fit what happened," Monmonier said last week. "The $5,500 makes it look like we did something really, really, really wrong."
Monmonier said the school paid the fine from money that came from the baseball program and not the rest of the athletics department. He said gate receipts and money raised throughout the course of the year helped offset the cost.
"We have booster clubs that raise money for their sport, then the individual sports teams are able to raise money," said Monmonier, who added that he received a couple of concerned emails about the fine. "And then there's money that I raise as an athletics director."
Added Wells: "We typically are self-sufficient and less dependent on the athletic department. But baseball's more expensive than it is revenue generating."
Hilton Head High booster club president Bob Rozek said he had heard of the fine but didn't know enough about it to form an opinion. But former president Mike Manesiotis certainly did.
"It's a severe fine from the district and the SCHSL," he said. "I think the punishment does not fit the crime. Bringing those players up was done as an icing on the cake, a dangling of the carrot. 'Hey, this could be you guys some day.' I think it was taken by the high school league as another opportunity to teach us a lesson down here."
Each sport at Hilton Head High has its own account within the athletics department, but a portion of every dollar raised by each sport goes to the Seahawks' general fund. Manesiotis said the booster club generally raises between $50,000 and $70,000 every year. He says the Seahawks athletics department costs significantly more money to operate than the school district budgets each year.
"These numbers are hard numbers: the school district funds $55,000 basically for the athletics department," he said. "It costs $125,000 to operate. Joe (Monmonier) has to raise money, with the booster club's help, in some essence, to make that shortfall up."
Manesiotis said he doesn't know how much is in the average team's account, but $5,500 would certainly be a big blow.
"Fifty-five hundred dollars hurts. No question about it."
He said the baseball team "might" have to dip into the general fund to make up for the fine, but he had no knowledge of that. Open meetings with the booster club are required for requests of around $250 or more, he said.
"Anytime you get fined a dollar, it's a dollar that could be spent toward equipment or coaching or field repairs or something like that," he said. "It's a shame."
Wells said he hopes the hefty fine does not hinder future fundraising efforts for the Seahawks program. He said that the penalty and fine were the first in his 15 seasons at Hilton Head High.
"That just means that Chris Wells is going to work harder at the fundraisers that go on throughout the year," Wells said. "But we do a good job of fundraising year in and year out. We're used to fundraising and raising a lot of dollars.
"I hope this mistake doesn't impact our supporters and our dollars. It was a mistake, I owned up to it and I'm embarrassed and we moved on."