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High school football team out of playoffs after special needs player ruled ineligible

Paul Zoeller

Goose Creek takes the field on the opening night of the season on Aug. 24 at Goose Creek High School.

Despite an amazing winning season, an undefeated high school football team in South Carolina has been barred from its state playoffs over the eligibility of one of its players, a student with special needs.

A request for an injunction to reinstate the disputed player was denied by a federal judge on Wednesday afternoon, leaving the team's players and parents heartbroken. 

On Wednesday morning, the attorney for Justice Roemello Rogers, an 18-year-old senior from Goose Creek High School, filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina High School League seeking to be reinstated under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prevents discrimination against people with disabilities by public agencies, according to court papers. U.S. District Judge Court Weston C. Houck, declined to hear the case on Wednesday afternoon because the SCHSL had not been served with the lawsuit yet, according to a report by Charleston NBC affiliate WCBD-TV. The lawyer for Rogers, Jason Moss, told the Charleston Post & Gazette that he faxed the papers to the SCHSL but admitted the SCHSL was not officially served with the lawsuit.

A pair of state senators, Paul Campbell and Larry Grooms, were in attendance at the courthouse, and Grooms told WCBD that he was disappointed the appeal was thrown out on a technicality. Goose Creek, which was 13-0, had to forfeit 10 games in which the Rogers was dressed to play and was disqualified from the playoffs. Both senators promised changes to the SCHSL after the judge's ruling.

"There will be a bill pre-filed to revoke the charter of the High School League,” Grooms told reporters outside the courthouse in Charleston.

“The High School League has made a huge mistake,” Campbell said.

The lawsuit claims that by its ineligibility ruling of the fifth-year senior, a foster child who has attended six schools, the SCHSL has shown “disregard to federally mandated rules created by Congress relating to student athletes with disabilities.” Rogers appeared in five games for a total of 17 plays, and is a special needs student with a learning disability who “had to receive direct supervision from the coaching staff on where to stand and on what to do for every play,” according to the lawsuit.

“His physical and cognitive abilities prevented him from playing in games for most of the season,’’ the complaint reads. “He was a proud contributor to every game whether on the field or not. He inspired other players and was committed to the fellowship of the team.’’

Goose Creek , which has been ranked as high as No. 11 in the nation and is a defending state champion, was disqualified from the playoffs on Monday by the SCHSL. The SCHSL executive committee upheld a ruling from a week earlier by commissioner Jerome Singleton that Rogers was ineligible because the committee determined this to be his fifth year of high school, one year more than the maximum of four years allowed by rule.

The decision left the team devastated after a potential unbeaten season was derailed.

"We were hoping for mercy for the children,” school principal Jimmy Huskey told the Charleston Post & Courier after the initial eligibility ruling on Monday. “It was about a school that reported itself, and I felt we got the death penalty for being honest. We were shocked and saddened.”

“Now, I have to go home and hear my son cry his eyes out because he will never play a high school game again,” Tanya Segar-Davis, the mother of defensive end Jalen Stevens, told the Post & Courier.

The lawsuit states that Huskey and head football coach Chuck Reedy reviewed his transcript at the time he transferred before this academic school year and believed he had only been in high school for three years and was now a senior. After Huskey later found that Rogers appeared to have been in high school for four years prior to coming to Goose Creek, he reported it to the SCHSL, which declared Rogers ineligible and ordered Goose Creek to forfeit 10 games.

However, school officials learned that Rogers was incarcerated at a youth facility in 2008 and not attending Woodmont High School, according to a report by the Post & Courier. They argued that any classes he took at the youth facility should not count toward eligibility, and also that he did not have enough credit hours to be considered a senior at the end of the 2011-12 academic year last.

Rogers was initially ruled ineligible on Nov. 13, disqualifying Goose Creek from the playoffs, but on Nov. 16, a judge granted a temporary restraining order that allowed the team to participate in its playoff game that night. The Gators beat Bluffton 35-25 to advance, but now Bluffton will go on to the next round in their place after the latest ruling.

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