Valdosta Daily Times

October 5, 2012

Vikings under investigation

GHSA sends letter to Lowndes; Propst stands by allegations

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Lowndes Vikings are officially under investigation.

Lowndes High School received a letter from the Georgia High School Association, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, that the school is under investigation for its actions in last Friday’s game against the Colquitt County Packers.

“There was a letter sent to Lowndes,” GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin said. “We don’t make comments on ongoing investigations.”

Swearngin also said the length of the investigation is undetermined, and a decision will be made “as soon as I get back all my data.”

The Vikings are accused of stealing Colquitt County’s signals during their 17-14 win over the Packers last Friday night at Mack Tharpe Stadium in Moultrie.  

Packers head coach Rush Propst, who spoke exclusively with The Valdosta Daily Times on Thursday, filed the complaint towards Lowndes. Propst described the complaint filed with the GHSA as a “complaint of violation of ethics.”

The Vikings are accused of using Buzz Payne, a Thomas County Central middle school coach, and a former varsity coach at Colquitt County, of sitting in the stands with binoculars and relaying the Packers’ signals to Lowndes coaches in the coaches’ box, who thus relayed the message down to the field.

“It was a planned act between Lowndes, Buzz Payne and Thomas County Central,” Propst said. “(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.”

When asked Monday about the allegations cast by Propst, Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson said his school didn’t do anything wrong and that he doesn’t even know Buzz Payne, nor has he had any contact with him.

Propst said that is not true.

“What they have said is a blatant lie,” Propst said. “Randy (McPherson) said that he didn’t know Buzz Payne. He knows Buzz Payne as well as he knows me. That is a blatant lie.

“Randy McPherson knows Buzz Payne. It had to be planned for the signals to mean anything to Lowndes’ coaches. Randy can lie all he wants to. Call Rance Gillespie and ask him.”

Gillespie, the head coach at Valdosta, was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon. Payne served under Gillespie last year at Valdosta before moving back to the Thomas County Central school system, where he once coached before moving to Moultrie.

Although the Vikings are under investigation by the GHSA, they will not be stripped of the win, according to Swearngin’s comments on Tuesday to the Thomasville Times Enterprise’s Clint Thompson. That is fine with Propst.

“We don’t want the win,” Propst said. “I’m not asking for the win. I’m not asking for an overturn of the outcome of the game. I do believe it actually helped Lowndes knowing what we were doing, whether we were going to run or pass. That is the reason the signals were given.”

When asked what punishment would suit Lowndes and McPherson, Propst said that is for Swearngin to decide.

Since Propst made the accusations last Friday night, just minutes after the conclusion of the game, many have criticized Colquitt County for not changing signals in over two years.

 “I would not think there would be something that unethical going on,” Propst said. “I would not think someone would stoop that low to do something like that. Taking blame for not changing signals, yes, I should have.”

Regardless of the signs being changed or not, Propst said the Vikings knew what Payne was doing in front of the window and that the coaches knew what signals he was giving.

“If someone throws their hands up in front of the window once or twice and you look, I understand, but to continue to look down there the whole game, you’d have to be under a rock to not think that what they did was ethically wrong,” Propst said. “We all know the Lowndes coaches knew what he was giving to them.”

Propst said Friday’s game is not the first time he has known Payne to be in attendance to aid a Packer opponent. Propst said he was made aware of Payne’s attendance at last year’s state semifinal matchup with the Grayson Rams. He said he received a call this week from a head coach that confirmed his presence in Grayson.

“I also found out that Buzz Payne was at Grayson and that happened during the semifinal game last year,” Propst said. “I heard that it happened at halftime last year.”

“I’ve lost a lot of respect for (Grayson head coach) Mickey (Conn), if that happened,” Propst continued. “Now that is alleged.

“There is a code of ethics that we as coaches have to abide by. Not only do we have to be right, but we have to appear right, too. There is no room in the coaching profession for this.”

Propst said no action has been taken by Colquitt County towards Grayson.  

“At this point of time, no,” said Propst when asked. “We gathered information that he stood on the sideline and watched this transpire.”

When reached by The Gwinnett Daily Post late Thursday, Conn confirmed that the Rams used Payne to prepare for the Packers. The Post photographed Payne on the Rams’ sideline during the game gesturing towards the field.

“No (he wasn’t calling in plays),” Conn told the Post. “There were a lot of people on our sideline. It’s a (Georgia High School Association) game. We use our own coaches, playing our own game. He wanted to go up in the box, and I said no, that we weren’t going to do that.’ In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to be on the sideline.”

Conn also said that he doesn’t want to be caught up in the situation between Payne, Colquitt County and Lowndes, and that Payne’s assistance during the week is normal practice in high school football.

“I don’t want to get drug into this mess,” Conn told the Post’s Ben Beitzel. “We told Buzz we weren’t (going to have him in the press box calling plays). He gave us a scouting report, just like you would with anybody else, calling other schools that played them. Same kind of deal.”

Prior to joining Colquitt County, Propst was fired from his position as head coach at Hoover High School in Alabama. In his nine seasons, Propst won 110 games and five Class 6A state championships with the Buccaneers. Propst’s firing came after an investigation by Birmingham-based reporter Jon Solomon, who discovered that some Hoover players’ grades were changed to help make them eligible for college.

“I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I have had to pay for them,” Propst said. “These people, that are standing at those places, at Thomas County Central and at Lowndes, with authority and cannot sweep this under the rug.”

“It made me understand that you are never in a position of power where you are not held accountable,” said Propst of his actions at Hoover. “You are always held accountable for your actions. If you know something is going wrong, then you need to address it, be truthful. That is the number one thing I learned at Hoover. I learned it the hard way. I just feel like it has been done to me now. Our program has been done wrong, and our kids have been done wrong.”