A postgame altercation involving two high school football teams left Warren County coach David Daniel with severe injuries and a swirl of questions surrounding the incident.
Warren County Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said Daniel had surgery after bones in his face were “crushed” after the Screaming Devils’ 21-2 victory Friday night at Hancock Central in Sparta, Ga. Assistant coach Jim Turner will be the acting head coach while Daniel is out.
Daniel’s wife, Rochelle, said Monday the injuries are on the right side of Daniel’s face, adding she was told there is no brain damage. But she said there are severe fractures around his eye, cheek and nose, which required major reconstructive surgery.
“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” she said. “I don’t want to blame anybody. It’s one of those things where everybody wants to know what’s going on, what’s happened.”
A request by Carey to have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into the matter was denied by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.
“They wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say,” Carey said of the sheriff’s department.
Hancock County Sheriff Tomlyn Primus, when reached at home Monday night, refused to say whether his office was investigating. Other media sources have reported that the sheriff’s department is investigating.
Tom Davis, the special agent in charge at the GBI’s Milledgeville office, said the agency can get involved only if a request comes from the district attorney, sheriff of the county, chief of police or Superior Court judge with area jurisdiction. Davis said the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has a right to work without requesting GBI involvement.
Carey said she might call the district attorney – who does have jurisdiction – today.
The incident occurred, Carey said, as she was walking with Daniel after the game. After the Screaming Devils reached their locked locker room, they were “caught off guard,” she said.
Carey said Daniel saw a Hancock Central player hit a Warren County player from behind with a helmet. According to Carey, Daniel stepped in and said something to the effect of “What are you doing?” The Hancock Central player, who has not been identified, then struck Daniel with a helmet.
Daniel was released from the Medical College of Georgia Hospital on Sunday night but will go back as doctors decide what’s next.
“He wants to come back to school and focus on (this Friday’s) game right now,” Carey said. “But he’s got to take care of himself first. All of Warrenton is just real upset.”
Ralph Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, said his organization has secondary involvement right now.
The GHSA has asked both schools to give accounts of what transpired, including what security measures were taken.
Swearngin, who added he’s waiting on a police report, said it will take a few days to get all the reports. Carey said Warren County has already sent its report to the GHSA.
“It’s a matter of trying to enforce our bylaws in regard to sportsmanship,” Swearngin said.
Hancock Central defensive coordinator Marleau Blount resigned in August from Warren County before serving his third season as head coach after several players practiced before completing physical examinations.
After Friday night’s game, Blount spoke with former players, students and teachers. He said he didn’t see what instigated the matter and which players might be involved.
“It was real unfortunate. I’m upset at everything,” said Blount, who is unsure what punishment will be handed out to those involved.
Carey said Daniel would have been coaching at Monday's practice if he had things his way. In fact, Warren County High School Principal Kaveous Preston half-jokingly said he looked around to make sure Daniel wasn't watching Monday's practice from somewhere in the woods.
Carey also said she spoke with Washington-Wilkes officials and said “we're all good to go” regarding Friday night's game in Warrenton. The team is 6-1, with three games left including Friday’s.
Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell, whose team defeated Hancock Central 28-15 on Sept. 30, said he hasn’t had any issues with the program through the years. He has also never heard of a coach getting struck with a helmet.
“Never in my 42 years have I ever seen anything like that happen. Nothing close to it,” Campbell said. “I don’t know everything that happened, but I know a coach shouldn’t get hit under any circumstances.”
Like Campbell, Aquinas coach Matt LeZotte said he has never had any postgame issues as a former high school and college quarterback or in three years coaching.
“It just blew my mind. We never have any problems,” said LeZotte, who said the Daniel incident was random. “We’re also not 10 miles down the road from our rival like Warren County and Hancock (Central). Also, our rivalries are competitive and not personal.”
Campbell said he believes the GHSA will probably be “extremely tough” on the program. He added he’ll take extra on-field precautions, starting with Friday’s home game against Aquinas.
“I’ve seen enough of it,” Campbell said, “that we’ll have security from now on until we get both teams off the field.”
Staff writers Chris Gay and Scott Michaux contributed to this article.