Valdosta Daily Times

October 10, 2012

Vikings cleared of cheating allegations

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Georgia High School Association and its executive director, Dr. Ralph Swearngin, cleared Tuesday the Lowndes High football team of allegations that its coaching staff stole offensive signals from Colquitt County during a game last month.

The Vikings are no longer under investigation.

Swearngin informed the Lowndes County School System administration of the GHSA’s decision shortly after lunch on Tuesday.

“We received a letter from Dr. Swearngin stating that the GHSA is not taking any action against Lowndes High School,” Lowndes County Superintendent Wes Taylor said in a statement. “In his letter, Dr. Swearngin explained that the GHSA is obligated to investigate complaints from member schools, and he emphasized, ‘I do not believe that the involvement of the GHSA Office should be viewed as an accusation of guilty.’”

As Swearngin explained to The Times, there are no rules prohibiting any actions made by the Vikings during their game against Colquitt County on Sept. 28 in Moultrie.

“Number one, there is no playing rule that covers this. There is no GHSA by-law that covers this,” Swearngin said. “What would have to happen is, we would have to see verifiable evidence that an ethics violation occurred. We looked at video that was given to us, information given to us by both schools and we finally decided there was nothing in there that would determine an ethics violation was made by Lowndes High School.”

The GHSA was investigating whether the Vikings stole Colquitt County’s offensive signals during their 17-14 win over the Packers. The allegations were brought forth by Packers head coach Rush Propst, who accused the Viking coaches of using former Packer and current Thomas County Central middle school coach Buzz Payne to steal signals during the game.

Propst said Payne used binoculars to watch Colquitt County’s sideline to determine whether the Packers were preparing to run or pass. He then relayed that information to Lowndes coaches in the press box, according to Propst’s allegations.

“There are no rules that prohibit one coach from one school talking to another coach from another school,” Swearngin said.

After officially opening his investigation into Lowndes’ actions last week, it took Swearngin and the GHSA less than five days to determine Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson was not guilty of unethical behavior.

 “We investigated and found no violations to act upon,” said Steve Figueroa, the GHSA’s director of media relations. “As far as we are concerned, the investigation is closed and no action will be taken towards any school involved.”

During a phone interview with The Times last week, Propst called McPherson a blatant liar and said that he knew the Vikings cheated in the win.

When reached by the Moultrie Observer Tuesday afternoon, Propst said the Packers needed to move on from the decision made by the GHSA.

“I'm at peace with it,” Propst told the Observer’s Wayne Grandy. “It's a non-factor. We need to move on. Right now, my energy and focus has to be on our football team.

“All I can control is our football team and the direction it needs to go.”

In his statement released to media Tuesday afternoon, Taylor defended his coach and his ethics, saying Lowndes employees are held to high standards.

“As employees of the Lowndes County School System, we are held to a high standard,” he said. “In our roles of influence and authority over young people, we are expected to conduct ourselves as positive role models at all times. When we encounter adversity, the manner in which we respond to it reveals our character.”

Taylor added: “We are in the business of helping students learn as they grow and mature. We endeavor to prepare our students to be successful and to become productive citizens after graduation. This experience affords us yet another teaching opportunity.”

The Vikings (6-0, 2-0, Region 1-AAAAAA) visit crosstown rival Valdosta (3-2, 0-1, Region 1-AAAAAA) in the Winnersville Classic Friday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.