GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Wade Hampton High School must pay $1,500 in fines and its boys' basketball team is banned from the playoffs for using three ineligible players from the West African nation of Gambia last season.
The South Carolina High School League said it was given false information used to determine the players' eligibility. "We take that as probably the most serious offense anybody can commit," Executive Director Pete Ayoub said.
A letter from the league about the penalties arrived Tuesday. School representatives appeared before the 17-member executive committee twice last month, The (Greenville) News reported Friday.
The school was fined $500 per player, which is the maximum under league rules. The team also will be ineligible for the region championship and prohibited from playing in jamborees, preseason and holiday tournaments.
The three players, Abdoulie Sowe, Baboucarr Bojang and Njogou Bah, came to Wade Hampton at the start of the 1996-97 school year and lived with first-year coach Nick Murphy.
Murphy resigned with two games left in the season. The three players are eligible to play this season and will live with families of classmates.
"Wade Hampton High School accepts the ruling of the High School League and looks forward to the future and getting this behind us," said athletic director Darryl Nance, who also became basketball coach this summer.
Nance said he was unsure whether the school will appeal its penalty. A hearing is set for Sept. 24.
"Unfortunately our procedure requires that we take (action) against the school," Ayoub said. "The coach is not there any longer and they have to deal with that, not us."
Murphy said he had been awarded custody of the boys in Gambia and had known their families for five years when they came to the United States. However, the U.S. ambassador to Gambia wrote Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., that the city council in the boys' hometown of Banjul had revoked Murphy's guardianship.
The ambassador said Banjul officials learned Murphy had given them false information.
Nance said dates on the papers were changed. "It's become obvious that somewhere dates were changed before the documents reached Wade Hampton High School," he said.
Sowe's father, Babou, said he first met Murphy in November 1996 in the United States. Babou Sowe said Gambian national basketball coach Essa Gaye arranged for the players to come to America.
Following last season, the High School League passed new rules requiring athletes to live with a parent or an adult with whom they have lived since the seventh grade.