Midway through the fourth quarter of Ridgeland-Hardeeville’s blowout win over Edisto, a triumph that locked up a share of the Region 5-AA championship, coach Jahmaal Nelson strolled calmly from the sideline and off the field of play.
The reason? The game officials, who threw 22 total flags on the night, had ejected the first-year coach after assessing him a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Rules state that any player or coach called for two such infractions requires ejecting. The circumstances surrounding the dismissal were unclear until after the game, when Nelson revealed that it had been due to two players taking the field with improper equipment -- or, rather, the lack thereof.
Bruce Hulion, an assistant commissioner for the S.C. High School League, as well as the League’s commissioner for football officials, said Monday that Nelson had been assessed the first penalty when a player was found to be playing without kneepads. Shortly afterward, another player was discovered playing without hip pads or a tailbone protector, all mandatory equipment.
“It’s a safety issue,” Hulion said.
A coach’s ejection for a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties could result in a suspension for the following game, as well as a fine, but Hulion said those additional disciplinary measures will not be applied in Nelson’s case. Such punitive actions are normally reserved for those coaches who have acted in a more traditionally unsportsmanlike manner -- swearing at an official, for example.
According to Hulion, Nelson will not be disciplined any further and is expected to coach the No. 2-seeded Jaguars in their home playoff opener against Garrett on Friday.
According to Hulion, it is the coach’s responsibility to ensure his players are properly equipped, and thus any such violations go against the coach. The pair of 15-yard penalties were two of 15 flags against Ridgeland-Hardeevile last Friday.
After the game, Nelson said he had sent home several players earlier in the week for not having proper equipment ready for practice. Hulion admitted that a case such as Nelson’s was rare.
“I've been at this 40 years, and I've never ejected a coach because of equipment,” Hulion said.