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Judge orders restoration of Hornet Football’s wins: Cook High still faces GHSA appeal and legal action

On Friday morning, Oct. 27, 2023, Alapaha Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Clayton Tomlinson entered a temporary restraining order preventing the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) from taking away five Cook High School Hornet Football wins, allowing #3 to play, preventing the payment of any fines to GHSA, and removing Cook County warning status from GHSA. 

This order makes Cook County eligible for the playoffs. The Hornets stepped up at last Friday night’s football game by defeating the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes 14-7. Cook would be Region 1-AA Champions if this win stands. 

According to a legal filing by Cook County Schools’ attorneys, on Oct. 16, 2023, Tucker Pruitt, the head football coach for Fitzgerald, emailed the GHSA to “turn in” Cook County for playing what he considered to be an ineligible player. The purported reason for the player’s ineligibility was for violation of the “Following a Coach” rule, which is GHSA By-Law 1.72(d).

Friday night’s football game in Adel involved heavy security by law enforcement with a metal detector system installed for all spectators who entered the stadium. Among other measures, school officials decided to forgo the traditional handshakes between opposing players and coaches at the end of the game, to prevent any issues. 

A hearing involving Cook County Schools and GHSA representatives will be held within the next 30 days in Superior Court.

Meanwhile, in another track of defense, Cook County school officials were scheduled to be in another appeal hearing before a GHSA board on Tuesday, Oct. 31, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. GHSA Executive Director  Dr. Robin Hines told the AJC that GHSA plans to appeal the Oct. 27 Superior Court ruling IF the GHSA board denies Cook’s appeal.

Cook County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tim Dixon released the following statement on Oct. 27:

“On Oct. 27, 2023, the Cook County School District filed suit against the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) in Cook County Superior Court. The purpose of this suit was to seek an injunction and other equitable relief regarding the GHSA’s decision to declare one of Cook County’s players ineligible and requiring Cook County to forfeit all its wins.

“After the suit was filed, a Cook County Superior Court Judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order. … The legal action is not over, but until the case can come to Court for a full Hearing, the GHSA is prohibited from declaring the student ineligible and requiring forfeiture of Cook County’s wins, among other relief.

“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by members of our Board Office, (Cook High School Principal) Dr. (Joi) Williams, (Athletic Director) Mr. (Paul) Dobson, (Hornet Head Coach Dr. Byron) Slack, and countless other staff members within our School District. I would especially like to thank Danny Studstill, District’s General Counsel, and Patrick Brooks, an Attorney from Folkston, for their tireless work in pursuit of this outcome. Finally, I am grateful to this community for its steadfast support of our school system and football team, and I am proud to be a Hornet, today and every day. GO HORNETS!!”

In his ruling to grant a temporary restraining order, Judge Tomlinson states, “Jarvis Kyree Fuller Jr. (“Kyree”) [#3] is a student at Cook County who enrolled on Jan. 30, 2023, having transferred from Lowndes County High School. The GHSA previously issued a decision on Aug. 8, 2023, that Kyree was eligible to play varsity sports for Cook County.

“On Oct. 16, 2023, the GHSA sent notice to Cook County that it had received information that Cook County violated GHSA By-Laws when it played Kyree as a member of its varsity football team. On Oct. 17, 2023, Cook County responded to this allegation in writing.

“On Oct. 18, 2023, the GHSA delivered a written decision to Cook County, informing it that the GHSA was retroactively declaring Kyree ineligible, that Kyree (a high school senior) was ineligible to play varsity sports for one year, that Cook County was being fined $750, that Cook County must forfeit any varsity football games in which Kyree played (which were all seven games to that point), and that Cook County was being placed on ‘Sever [sic] Warning Status.’

“The Oct. 18, 2023, letter cites that the forfeiture penalty imposed on Cook County was imposed for playing a ‘migrant student.’ The Oct. 18, 2023, letter also states that it is irrelevant whether or not undue influence played a role in Kyree’s transfer to Cook County. 

“Cook County appealed the decision of the GHSA within the administrative framework provided in the GHSA Constitution and By-Laws (collectively, the “White Book”). On Oct. 20, 2023, Cook County presented its appeal to the GHSA Hardship Committee. The GHSA White Book allows for an administrative appeal from a decision of the Hardship Committee. As of the date and time of this Order, the only indication of what that decision will be is a phone call, initiated by Cook County to the GHSA, between the Cook County athletic director and a secretary at the GHSA, where the secretary indicated that the appeal was going to be denied. No written decision has been issued.”

Cook County was scheduled to play a varsity football game [vs. Fitzgerald] on Friday night, Oct. 27, and on Friday, Nov. 3, [vs. Worth], the order states. “Currently the GHSA has declared Kyree ineligible and stripped Cook County of all its wins to date. If not stripped of its wins, Cook County will make the GHSA state football playoffs, and pending the results of the next two games, may be declared the Region 1-AA champion with preferential seeding in the tournament.

“Cook County has been denied the ability to administratively appeal the decision of the Hardship Committee due to the GHSA’s failure to issue a decision. Additionally, the Oct. 18, 2023, letter from the GHSA indicates that consideration of whether undue influence played a role in Kyree’s transfer is irrelevant, despite the White Book saying the opposite.

“Furthermore, the Oct. 18, 2023, letter from the GHSA imposed retroactive penalties against Cook County for violating the ‘migrant student’ rule, despite the fact that the White Book does not allow imposition of retroactive penalties pursuant to that rule where it has previously declared a student eligible.

“Absent a Temporary Restraining Order, immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to Plaintiff before Defendant can be heard in opposition to the motion for the Temporary Restraining Order.”

According to the Cook County School District’s lawsuit against GHSA, Adam Gray, the assistant coach in this matter (who previously was an assistant football coach for Lowndes High), started with Cook High School in July 2022. Kyree Fuller and his mother moved to Adel, her hometown, in January 2023 due to a family hardship. On Aug. 8, 2023, the GHSA granted a Hardship Waiver for Kyree to be eligible to play football, according to the suit. “Kyree subsequently participated in seven varsity football games for Cook County, all of which occurred more than 12 months after Coach Adam Gray was hired by Cook County.”

The Cook Schools lawsuit further alleges, “Put another way (and more accurately), [Fitzgerald] Coach Pruitt sat on information he now considers a violation to see if Cook County would be competitive this year. Now that Cook County is undefeated [in region play] and about to play his team, Coach Pruitt ran to the GHSA to have Kyree, a child who relocated to a different high school for his senior season, due to the divorce of his parents, declared ineligible, and Cook County, who is in position to win the Region 1-AA championship and enjoy preferred state playoff seeding, stripped of all its wins. If Cook County is stripped of its wins, Fitzgerald will win the Region 1-AA championship by default.”

Cook High’s response letter to GHSA notes that a factor in Kyree’s move to the Hornets was his uncle and cousin being assistant coaches for the Hornets. The response letter adds, “[T]here was no undue influence from Coach Gray. He had no contact with Kyree and was surprised when he walked in the field house and saw him here. He didn’t know he was moving.” A form from the principal and athletic director of Lowndes High also states, “I do not believe a representative from another school recruited this student or used undue influence to encourage this student to transfer.” Additionally, during a GHSA Hardship Committee hearing on Oct. 20, “[u]ndisputed testimony was presented at this hearing that there was no undue influence involved in Kyree’s transfer to Cook County, including that Kyree’s mother (the person who made the decision to move to Cook County) had never met or spoken with Coach Gray before Oct. 20, 2023,” the lawsuit adds.

The suit notes that “unfortunately, this is not the first time that GHSA has denied a member school the ability to effectively administratively appeal as provided in the White Book, particularly when it comes to teams from South Georgia.” The suit references a 2019 case involving the Charlton County School District, which was upheld on appeal at the Georgia Court of Appeals. 

The suit seeks attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation from the GHSA.   

According to Georgia High School Football Daily, Cook hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2000. Only a few schools have longer playoff streaks, including Marist, Peach County, Eagle’s Landing Christian, and Buford. 

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