Originally created 11/05/02

Northwestern, Marlboro County ruled out for playoffs



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Two of South Carolina's most powerful teams won't make the state football playoffs this year after an executive panel chose Monday to uphold the probation on Northwestern and Marlboro County for an ugly brawl after a game earlier this season.

The 16-member executive committee of the South Carolina High School League heard appeals and asked questions of officials from both schools before deciding to keep the probation in place. Twenty players were disciplined, 16 of them from Marlboro County, for the postgame fight. Videotape showed one player swinging a helmet as a weapon.

"The committee acknowledged that both schools have taken corrective action" to ensure a similar incident won't happen in the future, High School League Executive Director Ronnie Matthews said. "However, due to the seriousness of the whole incident, the probation was not lifted."

Ray Brayboy, Marlboro County school superintendent, said he was disappointed in the decision, but district officials and school board members will look at possible legal options.

Calls to Northwestern High principal Bill Gummerson were not immediately returned.

The regular season for Class 4A - the state's largest high schools - ends Friday with the playoffs set to start Nov. 15.

Roger Hazel, SCHSL assistant executive director, says other Class 4A schools have been sent surveys about how the league should handle the playoff brackets without Northwestern and Marlboro County.

Marlboro County won the Class 4A, Division II state title last year. Northwestern was runnerup to Spartanburg in the Class 4A, Division I - also known as "the Big 16" - championship game in 2001.

It was likely, Hazel said, that without the Trojans, a Big 16 team would get a bye into the second round.

Accounts of what happened Sept. 13, vary with who you ask.

Fans rushed on the field and ran at the players after Northwestern's 14-10 victory. Several fights broke out, and Rock Hill police officers pulled people off a pile.

Marlboro County quarterback Syvelle Newton was apparently knocked out in the fight, according to several newspaper reports. Other accounts had several players getting doused with pepper spray.

Three players from Marlboro County and one from Northwestern were suspended for the season.

Neither team has lost since then. Northwestern is 9-1 and ranked fifth in the latest AP rankings. Marlboro County is 8-2 and ranked seventh.

Administrators and coaches from the two rival schools have worked the last two months to restore their reputations for sportsmanship.

- Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd began silent warmups with his players before games to cut down the trash talking that springs up between teams and could lead to hard feelings.

- Rock Hill's District 3 Stadium requires players to go to their respective sidelines after games, then return to the field to shake hands. No fans are allowed on the field until the teams have gone to opposite end zones.

- Gummerson has said Northwestern players have talked with counselors about handling difficult situations.

Monday's appeals were heard behind closed doors. Rep. Doug Jennings, D-Bennettsville, appeared on behalf of Marlboro County and tried to get the meeting open to the media, but Matthews said league policy permitted the closed meeting.

Marlboro County presented a 93-page booklet for the committee called "The Marlboro Plan for Building Sportsmanship and Integrity."

Gummerson and coach Jimmy "Moose" Wallace were part of the Northwestern group that answered questions from the committee.

Boyd said he had prepared himself the past few days for any ruling. However, he said, he was pleased with the way the school presented its appeal and has acted since the fight.

Jennings says the ruling against the schools would send the message to teenagers throughout South Carolina that "there is no second chance when you rectify your behavior."