THOMASTON, Ga. (WALB) - The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) made a decision Tuesday afternoon regarding Valdosta High School’s appeal of the sanctions issued against its football program.
GHSA denied the Wildcats’ appeal, and all penalties imposed against the football program will stand.
Five players were ruled ineligible and according to the ruling, the players have to forfeit their 2020 season, along with the 2021 season.
Other penalties include a $7,500 fine and the whole football program is barred for 2021 post-season play.
At the hearing, the GHSA Board of Trustees reviewed a secret audio recording and a 64-page deposition involving Head Coach Rush Propst.
Valdosta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Cason argued there was no evidence to corroborate the allegations against Propst and the football program.
After hearing nearly three hours of testimony and arguments, the GHSA Board of Trustees unanimously voted to reject Valdosta High School’s final appeal of its punishment.
One that directly impacts the future of the four rising seniors ruled ineligible for next season.
Following the hearing Eric Johnson, the criminal defense attorney representing Amari Jones and Tajh Sanders said, “It could have a serious effect on some of these students who relied on possible athletic scholarships to get to school.”
Valdosta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Cason said, “We were hoping to get the penalties reduced. Of course, it would’ve been great for the actual charges to be lifted, but of course, the charges were not lifted.”
This latest ruling forces the four ineligible players to look outside the state if they want to play their senior season.
“The biggest surprise is that the students are still going to be suspended for next year. The penalties, in this case, should’ve been applied retroactively to last year, but the fact that they’re being applied proactively to next year effectively means these kids are being penalized for two years,” Johnson added.
During the second and final appeal hearing Tuesday morning, the GHSA Board of Trustees listened to excerpts of the secret audio recording and the 64-page deposition. The recording between former head football coach Rush Propst and then-Valdosta Touchdown Club president Mike “Nub” Nelson proved too much to overcome at the appeal.
Cason continued, “While the recording is damning, don’t get me wrong, I do understand the dynamics of the recording, there was no physical evidence.”
Brian Smith, representing Valdosta High School said during the meeting, “There is absolutely no evidence that Amari Jones was recruited in any way or that any money was given to him or his family. It was, as she puts it, to save her son’s life.”
“I think it is a very unjust result in this particular matter. I do not believe the evidence substantiated the charges in this case. So now, the family will be looking at additional legal options,” said Johnson.
Days after the release of the audiotape, the school board placed on Propst paid leave and subsequently denied his contract renewal for next season. Dr. Cason also mentioned the coaching search was sabotaged leading to top candidates removing themselves from contention.
Smith asked Cason if Propst was a top prospect in his view, “Coach Propst wasn’t your first choice, he wasn’t your second choice, he wasn’t your third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth choice.” Cason answers, ‘No’ each time.
As for the 2021 season, the Wildcats only have the regular season to play for.
“My heart goes out to our young men. We’ve got 61 young men who are participating in spring practice. And now for me to share with them that they can have a season but can’t participate in the postseason, is very disappointing,” said Cason.
Johnson told me they’re looking to file a lawsuit and that this case to court so the kids can get their due process. For the Wildcats - Dr. Cason tells me it’s time to move forward and focus on the season ahead.
This is a developing story.