On Friday afternoon, Oct. 20, 2023, the community was shocked and dismayed by an announcement from Cook High School concerning the status of the CHS Hornets football team:
“The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) informed Cook High School that allegations were brought against the school concerning GHSA By-law 1.72 (D) Following the coach, 1.11 Eligibility, and 2.27 Failure to follow stated procedures. The school filed an appeal with the Georgia High School Association and met with an appeal committee Friday morning in Thomaston, GA.
“We received the decision of the appeal from GHSA this afternoon, and the committee denied the appeal.
“Unfortunately, we will have to forfeit our five wins and pay $750 in fines. We will notify the administration of those five schools of this situation, and they will now be awarded wins with our forfeiture. The administration of Cook High School deeply regrets that this situation has occurred for the student involved, the team, our school, and our community. We are dedicated to adhering to GHSA regulations and bylaws. We are committed to ensuring that eligibility policies and procedures are followed. We look forward to finishing our season strong and supporting our student-athletes and coaches throughout the rest of the season.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tim Dixon told the Adel News Monday that he is limited on what he can say on the matter due to the possibility of litigation. However, he did confirm that Fitzgerald High School filed the complaint with GHSA on Wednesday, Oct. 18. None of the five other teams that the Hornets had previously defeated this season were responsible for the complaint, including Pelham, Jeff Davis, Sumter County, Brooks County, and Berrien County.
The Hornets are scheduled to face the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes on Friday night at home. This game would have been for the Region 1-AA Championship, but at this point, the game will not be for the region title. With the GHSA decision still in place, the Hornets’ 2023 record will be 1-7, with last week’s victory over Dodge County.
According to school officials, the complaint centered on the claim that a Hornet player had followed his coach, reportedly from Lowndes, which would be a violation of GHSA rules. The assistant coach started with Cook in 2022, and the player and his mother moved to Adel, her hometown, in January 2023 due to a family hardship. Dr. Dixon said the GHSA granted a hardship waiver for the player.
However, following the complaint, the GHSA has now ruled that the student was ineligible to play football for the Hornets, because the proper time frame was not followed for him to actively join the Hornets. Thus, the football team allegedly fielded an ineligible player this season.
“I’m so disappointed in the whole situation,” Dr. Dixon said. “I just don’t like that.” On Tuesday morning, Oct. 24, school officials were scheduled to meet with Cook County Board of Education Attorney Danny Studstill and another attorney to discuss what can be done next and consider all options. “We are going to do everything in our power to get this reversed,” Dr. Dixon said. “Whether we can, I don’t know.” He said school officials will heed the attorneys’ legal advice.
He said the options at this point appear to be either another appeal with GHSA or legal action.
He said the problem is being able to pursue an option as expeditiously as possible. The Hornets face a time crunch, with only two more regular season games before the playoffs.
If this season’s victories are not restored, the Hornets will not make the playoffs. However, Dr. Dixon said that even if the GHSA’s ruling stands, it will not affect the players’ scholarship opportunities. “That’s the good news,” he said, adding that college recruiters will be looking at such factors as individual players’ ability, academic standing, and character. He added that the player involved in the GHSA decision is a good student: “It’s sad for him, his teammates, his school, and his community.”
Dr. Dixon noted the unprecedented nature of the GHSA ruling in the history of Cook High athletics. He said the GHSA action is the first experience of its kind for him in his 38 years in education, both in administration and coaching.
Dr. Dixon expressed appreciation to all those who have offered solutions to the issue and the community for their strong support of the Hornets.
Dr. Dixon urged the Hornet fans to be “a positive support for our students and our team on Friday night.” He spoke of the college football concept of fans being “the 12th Man” in the game: “We need the 12th Man in a positive way” during Friday night’s game against Fitzgerald. The Purple Hurricanes have a 6-2 record on the season (4-0 in Region 1-AA).