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3 Columbia-area schools say they won’t play Gray Collegiate in any sport. What we know

Three Richland 1 schools have informed Gray Collegiate Academy they are not going to play the War Eagles in any sport this year. Gray, meanwhile, says that not playing the games will violate state law.

The schools, Columbia, Eau Claire and Keenan, made their intentions known to Gray last week, according to copies of emails obtained Tuesday by The State. The schools are members of Class 2A’s Region 4 along with Gray Collegiate.

The three other region schools, Newberry, Mid-Carolina and Fairfield Central, are likely to follow suit and not play Gray Collegiate in the 2023-24 sports seasons. Newberry and Mid-Carolina are in the region for football only, while Fairfield Central and the three Richland 1 schools are in the region for all sports.

Gray Collegiate principal Brian Newsome, in an email sent Tuesday to all six region teams and the S.C. High School League, said any decision to not play the region games “breaches the League’s Constitution, violates State Budget Proviso 1.50, and irreparably harms GCA and its student-athletes.”

The longstanding S.C. proviso was written into state law and “guarantees that private or charter schools are afforded the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by all other members of the association.”

Newsome wrote in Tuesday’s email: “Most or all League member schools (other than GCA) have the right and privilege of playing a full region schedule during the 2023-2024 school year in all sports in which their student athletes participate. As of now, based on the initial decisions of several schools in Region 4 AA, it appears that GCA and its student-athletes will be denied that same right and privilege during the 2023-2024 school year.”

The schools view the forfeits against Gray as their way of taking a stand on fair play and competitive balance concerns regarding charter and private schools that are SCHSL members and have dominated the 1A and 2A state championships in recent years.

S.C. High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton has described the prospect of predetermined forfeits by an entire region as unprecedented. On Tuesday, Singleton told The State, “I’m not an attorney whether it is in violation of state or legislative policy,” he said. “It is not in violation of league policy.”

Newsome told The State that the goal is to avoid a lawsuit on the matter.

“Even after I got the emails from Eau Claire, Keenan and Columbia, I wanted to remind them that this would be a direct violation of the state law proviso in place to make sure this kind of thing can’t happen,” Newsome said. “You can’t discriminate against us because we are charter schools. Look at our region teams saying they would play everyone except us, a charter school.”

Gray, in its written correspondence Tuesday, appealed to the region opponents to play the games as normal and asks that the High School League commit to finding a solution to the ongoing competitive balance concern.

“GCA proposes the following immediate amicable resolution:

“1. Each recipient of this letter confirms in writing by noon on September 1, 2023, that all Region 4, AA interscholastic athletic contests will be played as normal during the 2023-2024 school year, while the League simultaneously works toward implementing a competitive balance system; and

“2. The League confirms in writing by noon on September 1, 2023, that it will form a new competitive balance committee to study the development and implementation of a competitive balance system to take effect during the 2024-2025 school year.”

Newberry High athletic director Chad Cary said his school and fellow county school Mid-Carolina plan to inform Gray of their intentions on Friday. Fairfield County superintendent JR Green told The State on Monday he plans to meet with his coaches at Fairfield Central High and come with a decision in the next few days.

“If the coaches are ready to make the decision, obviously we will notify them,” Green said. “Last conversation I had with them was that they were all on the same page. But that’s subject to change.”

On Monday, the S.C. High School League executive committee voted, 10-2, in favor of allowing any team facing a region-game forfeiture in any sport to replace it with another opponent — if one could be found — and without penalty. Historically, a team that is awarded a win because of a forfeit cannot play another game in its place.

That means Gray Collegiate can find replacements for canceled games. War Eagle football coach and athletic director Adam Holmes told The State he’s in the process of trying to find replacements for the six football games that could be forfeited.

If no replacements are found, that would mean Gray Collegiate football’s regular season would end Sept. 8 with the playoffs starting in early November. Gray’s first region game is scheduled against Eau Claire on Sept. 15.

Newsome told The State that Gray is in support of addressing competitive balance concerns and wants the S.C. High School League and its members to work together to find a solution. He has formed a committee comprised of superintendents, principals, athletic directors and appellate panel and executive committee members. The first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

“My letter today was while we are in the process of making that happen we should still be playing the games,” Newsome said. “I frankly wanted to know by Sept. 1 who officially isn’t going to be competing. Our entire objective is to make sure we are playing the games. Not playing the games is not an option in our minds.”