Parents of the Valdosta High School football players ruled ineligible for next season fight for justice

Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 11:46 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Four Valdosta high school athletes and their families are fighting for justice after an audio recording sent shockwaves across the country.

An investigation by the GHSA saw several penalties levied against the School’s football program, including five ineligibility rulings.

Monday night, their families are speaking out.

Tajh Sanders’s mom, Tiajuana said, “We have a voice and they did us wrong.”

The GHSA accuses the families of Tahj Sanders, Amari Jones, Jamad Willis, and Ty’Li Lewis of accepting money and other incentives to transfer their sons to Valdosta High School to play football for Rush Propst.

The four rising seniors are former players of Rush when he coached at Colquitt County High School.

Paige asked, “Did you all at any point receive money from a Valdosta Schools official or booster?”

The parents responded, “No.”

13 students transferred to Valdosta High School for the 2020 season. Only five, including Jake Garcia, were found to violate GHSA bylaws.

Garcia briefly played quarterback for the Wildcats.

Tahj Sanders parents’ Tim and Tiajuana and Ty’Li Lewis’ mom Shafreda Hall are shocked by the penalties.

Tim said, “We were like how and why pretty much. Like when they came down about the kids being recruited and only five were pointed out, it made us feel like we were being singled out.”

In August, the players gained eligibility to transfer to Valdosta. Each parent and player signed sworn affidavits stating there was “no undue influence” in their move.

A few months later, scandal surrounds the kids and their families.

“They’re not the same. Like, the first week that this happened, whenever we were in court they didn’t want to go to school. Who wants to face the people at school about this situation that they’re accusing us of and we didn’t do anything,” said Hall.

An audio recording between former Wildcats head football coach Rush Propst and former Touchdown Club President Mike Nelson sparked allegations of recruiting players. Investigations by the school, the GHSA, and the Georgia Professional Standards Commissions quickly followed.

In April, the GHSA issued a $7,500 fine, 2021 postseason ban, forfeitures of last season’s wins, and four ineligibility rulings.

The parents and Valdosta school officials would fight these penalties. Both appeals were unsuccessful. The audiotape and a 64-age deposition proved too much for the GHSA board to overcome.

“It feels like it was never about the kids from the start,” Tim added.

For Tahj and ty’Litheir transfers were simple, really.

It was an opportunity to reunite with their former coach and for a second chance in the classroom.

Tiajuana added, “When he came here, it was a different spirit. It woke up something different. He used to hide his report card. Now when it comes he’ll take a picture and be like, ‘Yeah you see that, yeah you see that.’ You know, and not saying moving here made that big of a difference from people outside looking in, but it really did if you know my son.”

For the four players, their futures weigh in the balance.

“It’s really stressful because Ty’Li no offers,” Tim asked.

Hall responded, “No offers, at this time.”

Tim continued, “And Tajh has some, but with not playing this year, we’re not sure if they’re going to hold up. So, we’re trying to get somewhere that he can play.”

“I’m going to make sure he still gets to college, no matter what it takes he going. I may just have to work a little harder,” said Hall.

A month after the final appeal, they’ve decided to take legal action.

“We’ve sought action for a lawsuit against the GHSA because we feel like we’re accused of something we have nothing to do with. Accusations they didn’t really show any evidence of anything. said Tim.

Hall added, “If you don’t stand up for you and your kid, who will.”

The GHSA was not available for comment. We will continue to update you as this story develops.

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