Local Sports

October 22, 2011

Dalton High decision due 'in a few days'

Georgia High School Association Executive Director Ralph Swearngin said a final decision on the eligibility of a football player at Dalton High School will be reached “in a few days.”

Reached Friday morning, Swearngin said the questions involving the transfer of senior linebacker Corey Smith from Southeast High School to Dalton will take more time to sort out and could require further investigation on his part.

On Thursday, Dalton High Principal Debbie Freeman, Assistant Principal Steve Bartoo and Athletic Director Ron Ward traveled to the GHSA headquarters in Thomaston and delivered Dalton’s response to allegations that Smith and his family had not made a “bona fide” move under GHSA bylaws.

“I have received the allegation and Dalton’s response,” Swearngin said. “What I have got to do, and am in the process of doing, is going through both of those things and trying to determine what things we can agree upon as being fact and what things require further investigation.

“It is probably not going to be for a couple of more days before anything is final. The student remains ineligible until the matter is resolved.”

Dalton was notified of the investigation by the GHSA on Oct. 14 and held Smith out of that night’s Sub-region 7A-3A game against Ringgold in Chattanooga. Smith, who was a starting linebacker at Southeast last year and was Dalton’s leading tackler going into the Ringgold game, was held out of the game and his name was removed from the team’s roster on daltonfootball.com. He has since been returned to the roster on the team’s website. He did not play in Friday night’s homecoming game against LaFayette.

The GHSA has several guidelines in its constitution and bylaws that spell out what constitutes a legal transfer. Students who change schools without making a bona fide move are classified as migrant students and are not eligible for varsity competition.

While the matter is under investigation, neither Dalton officials nor Swearngin will release specifics, but Swearngin said this case of eligibility is “complicated.”

“Situations in life for people today are really complicated,” Swearngin said, “and the intensity of the fans in areas like where you are at makes it even more critical.”

Swearngin said he hopes to have a decision as quickly as possible.

“If I come up with some issues where the allegations and the information furnished by Dalton are really, really off, then it may require more investigation,” he said. “We will work on that as quickly as we can and do justice to it, and we should have something — I hope — in a few days.”

The rules on eligibility have become more complex in recent years as some parents, students and schools have attempted to exploit loopholes in GHSA regulations. Schools that have violated transfer rules and used ineligible players in the past have been forced to forfeit games; in some instances the schools were given monetary fines. If the ruling goes against Dalton, the school could make an appeal to the GHSA hardship committee.

If Dalton were forced to forfeit the games Smith competed in, it would lose four wins, including two from sub-region contests.

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