Columns & Blogs

Gray areas have Seahawks, Singleton in quite a mess

It's been a rough couple of weeks to "bleed the blue." So bad, in fact, that Seahawks fans can only hope the bleeding stops soon.

Hilton Head High has been outscored 130-0 over its first two games, lopsided road losses to county rivals Bluffton High School and Beaufort High School, and things have been as bad or worse off the field.

It began before the season even started, when Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan sent a letter to the S.C. High School League reporting that the Seahawks football team had used players whose eligibility had not yet been cleared in two sanctioned scrimmages.

The end result of that report was a meager $200 fine and the athletics program's placement on "warned status," though the school also suspended coach Tim Singleton for two weeks while awaiting the High School League's ruling.

But things got much worse -- and they still haven't gotten better.

On Thursday, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that senior Philip Harris' transfer from Hardeeville High School seemingly was in violation of the High School League's transfer rules, because his stepfather was still living in the family's former home in Hardeeville.

To make matters worse -- or at least more complicated -- Harris and his mother and younger sister were living in an apartment owned by Singleton, which is not a violation of High School League rules but is certainly an arrangement that raises some ethical questions.

Presumably in response to Thursday's reporting, Harris was held out of Thursday night's game at Beaufort High, and Hilton Head High athletics director Mark Karen confirmed Saturday that Harris has been deemed ineligible to play for the Seahawks.

"Based on communication that I had with the (High School League), Philip and his mother, he has been ruled ineligible to participate in athletics at (Hilton Head High) this year," Karen said in a text message. "We reported our finding formally to the (High School League) on Friday morning and are waiting for their response at this time."

It's a shame that it ends this way for Harris, who by all accounts is a good kid. But it's not terribly surprising, either.

It was clear from the start that something about this situation didn't smell quite right, and the more facts come out, the stronger the stench becomes.

Singleton says Harris' family approached him looking for housing only after learning Harris wouldn't be eligible to play sports if he were living with his grandparents on Hilton Head Island.

And what do you know? The coach had a low-income apartment for rent.

The next thing you know, Harris and his family have moved to Hilton Head Island, and Singleton has a new starting running back.

Don't get me wrong, no one is using the "R" word -- recruiting -- here, but it's easy enough to see where they would get that idea.

When you choose to operate in life's gray areas, you invite scrutiny and criticism.

Singleton knew that, obviously, because his first response when asked about renting an apartment to Harris and his mother was to point out that he had checked with his "legal team" to ensure there was nothing illegal about the arrangement.

Legality aside, the fact that Singleton felt the need to check with his lawyers at all should have been a red flag. He acknowledged the situation looks "very sketchy," and added, "If we were the NCAA ... but we're not the NCAA."

But Singleton chose to operate in that gray area, nonetheless, and now he's opened himself up to the criticism of his detractors and the scrutiny of his superiors and the media.