Valdosta Daily Times

December 29, 2012

No. 4: Lowndes accused of cheating by Colquitt coach

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — If there wasn’t enough drama in Lowndes’ 17-14 win over rival Colquitt County, Packers head football coach Rush Propst added plenty of it less than five minutes after the game.

Propst, a coach who has a troubled background filled with controversy, accused the Vikings and their head coach, Randy McPherson, of cheating.

Propst’s allegations that the Vikings used a former Colquitt County-turned-Thomas County Central assistant coach to steal signals during the game were enough for the Georgia High School Association to place McPherson and the Vikings under investigation.

Less than a week later, the Vikings were cleared of all such allegations made by Propst.

Regardless, Propst’s allegations towards the Vikings stole a week’s worth of headlines and comes in as The Valdosta Daily Times’ fourth biggest sports story of the year.

On the Monday following the Vikings’ win over Propst’s Packers, McPherson defended his team’s honor, saying he was “proud of the way our team played hard for four quarters last Friday night and executed our game plan that our coaches developed without any external assistance.”

That external assistance McPherson and the Vikings were accused of using was former Packers assistant Buzz Payne, who coached under Rance Gillespie at Valdosta in 2011 before moving to Thomas County Central in 2012.

Propst alleged that Payne stood on the top row of the stadium, just in front of the Lowndes coaches’ box, with binoculars, stealing signs from the Packers’ sideline. From there, Payne signaled the signs to the Lowndes coaches in the box, who then radioed down to the field whether the Packers were going to run or throw the following play, alleged Propst.

“It was a planned act between Lowndes, Buzz Payne and Thomas County Central,” Propst told The Times in early October. “(TCC’s) head coach (Bill Shaver) and athletic director (Mike Singletary) had knowledge of it.

“Anywhere, anytime, I will put my hand on a Bible. I know Lowndes and Randy McPherson and I know Thomas County Central and their administration knew what Buzz Payne was doing.”

Soon after Propst, who was fired from Alabama’s Hoover High School for changing players’ grades, cast the allegations towards Lowndes, a YouTube video surfaced that clearly showed a man, believed to be Payne, standing underneath the Lowndes coaches’ box with binoculars directed at the Colquitt County sideline. The man was also seen making hand gestures towards the Lowndes coaches, who seemed to notice the man’s presence.

“I have seen the video and I have never seen the man in the video,” said McPherson. “He is in no way associated with our program. I even asked my coaches if they could hear him — they couldn’t. I can’t help what some fan does in the stands.”

Propst later called McPherson a “blatant liar,” saying he knew Payne and that he knew what he was doing at the game.

The war of words between the coaches, who both defended their programs, went on for almost two weeks.

While Propst bashed the Viking program, McPherson credited the Packers, saying he thought the cheating allegations took away from a game that was filled with “great sportsmanship.”

“I appreciate that the Colquitt County players played hard,” McPherson said. “They have a fine football team, are well coached and the players exemplified good sportsmanship.”

Less than a week after the GHSA officially opened its investigation into Lowndes, the Vikings were cleared of any wrongdoing, said GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin.

“Number one, there is no playing rule that covers this, there is no GHSA by-law that covers this,” Swearngin told The Valdosta Daily Times in October. “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.”

After the GHSA’s ruling, Propst refused to comment on the situation any further, telling The Moultrie Observer’s Wayne Grandy that his team needed to move on with its season. The Packers eventually moved on and made it to the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive season, losing to eventual state champion Norcross.

Lowndes beat the Packers 17-14 in the Sept. 28 meeting in Moultrie, avenging a 34-7 loss to the Packers the prior season. In this year’s win, the Vikings held the Packers to just eight yards of rushing and forced three Colquitt County interceptions, including one on the final drive of the game with less than 20 seconds remaining.

The Vikings finished second in Region 1-AAAAAA with a 9-1 record, but lost to Marietta in the first round of the state playoffs.