Class A Blog: (UPDATED) Savannah Christian's Chumley uses words like "disgusted," "shameful," "criminal" to describe GHSA handling of players' eligibility

Ok, Class A Heads. Here is the latest update on junior Demetris Robertson, the All-State DB/WR/ATH and Alabama commit who transferred from Savannah Country Day to Savannah Christian at the beginning of the school year when his guardian brother moved from one residence to another.

As was posted previously in this space, Robertson was ruled ineligible by the Georgia High Schools Association for a second time on Tuesday, after Savannah Christian resubmitted some paperwork on his move with his brother from the Savannah Country Day service area to the Savannah Christian area. When he was notified of the GHSA’s latest decision on Tuesday morning, Savannah Christian head coach and  athletic director Donald Chumley was a bundle of emotions, ranging from dumbfounded, to angry, to sad, to disappointed.

“We have gone above and beyond to make sure that this was done the right way,” Chumley said. “We did our own investigation.”

In fact, Robertson was originally ruled eligible to compete but Savannah Christian self reported several weeks ago that a new lease had been signed but he had not moved yet.  And so the GHSA reversed its decision, pending Robertson and his brother actually moving into their new home.

But in its last meeting on Sept. 15, the GHSA executive committee voted to temporarily delete the bylaw that would have allowed Robertson to be eligible, once he actually moved into the Savannah Christian service area. The rule – 1.62(b) – says that a "student who was enrolled in a private school or a magnet school and has a bona fide move from one public school service area to another public school service area … may attend either the public school or a private school serving his area of residence."

A final ruling on permanently deleting the rule or rewriting it will be made at the GHSA’s next executive committee meeting in April 2015. Meanwhile, Robertson and Savannah Christian have what could be their last opportunity to gain his eligibility on Oct. 7, when Robertson’s case will be brought before the appeals committee.

Though the timing of the rule being temporarily suspended may look somewhat suspect, adjustments and amendments are made to bylaws in the GHSA constitution all the time, said GHSA Executive Director Gary Phillips.

“A proposal was made by a member of the executive committee [Harrison Principal Donnie Griggers, second by Charlton County Athletic Director Jesse Crews] and then there was some discussion about it among the committee members,” Phillips said of the process. “[The reason behind the motion] would be complete speculation on my part but it is not uncommon for bylaws to be changed or rewritten. That law was originally instituted in the 1980s and then amended in 1995.”

Robertson, who is now living in his new home, was declared ineligible for last Friday’s game against Truetlen (a 50-0 win for Savannah Christian, now 4-0 and ranked No. 7) because the electricity had not been turned off at his former residence. After that was done and proof was submitted to the GHSA on Monday, Phillips again denied Savannah Christian’s request for Robertson to be reinstated, this time because the rule that would have allowed him to be eligible – 1.62(b) – was no longer valid. Phillips said he acted on the advice of the GHSA’s contracted attorney, Alan Connell of Connell and Wheeler in Thomaston.  Connell has provided counsel to the GHSA for 30 years, Phillips said.

“I understand [Savannah Christian’s] frustration.  Savannah Christian has been very good about supplying us all of the information we have asked for, and they did their own investigation of the move,” Phillips said. “But we have done our due diligence and gone step by step to invoke the bylaws as written at the time.”

The whole episode has incensed Chumley.  “Why the hell does a lawyer have to get involved,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve given them everything they have asked for, and for them to do this to this kid is downright criminal. Someone needs to be held accountable for what they are doing to this young man’s future.  This has made me ashamed for what I do for a living, because you have a bunch of adults who have decided to take something away from a kid, and that’s who we’re all supposed to be fighting for here. The kids.”

Though Robertson has committed to Alabama, Chumley believes keeping him off the field this season jeopardizes his future.

“Look, I have great respect for [Alabama coach Nick] Saban and his program, but we all know  a verbal offer doesn’t mean a hill of beans,” Chumley said. “Unfortunately these days college recruiting is all about these ratings and things.  With Demetris not being able to play, that can’t be good for his ratings.

“Look, we'll be fine if he plays or if he doesn't.  But it’s a disgrace to do something like this to a young man who has done nothing but good things with his life. I’ve been coaching for more than 20 years and in all of that time Demetris Robertson is as fine a young man as I have ever come across,” said Chumley, a three-year letterman (1982-84) and former defensive captain at Georgia. “All [GHSA] has done is throw loop hole after loop hole and road block after road block in front of a kid whose character and attitude is impeccable, and for what? That rule has been in place for years, but now you want to pop up and do away with it. I’d really like to know what is really going on.”

Chumley said he believes several biases might be at play.  “Look I know the fact that we went to the Georgia Dome three years in a row and won a state championship may have rubbed some folks the wrong way,” Chumley said, “but I won’t apologize for that.

“And we all know about all the transfers that take place in metro Atlanta, but outside of Atlanta we don’t have as many votes,” Chumley said.  Of the 58 members on the GHSA executive committee, about a third are from south Georgia schools.

“What I see here is an abuse of power and it’s our responsibility, and my responsibility to stand up for a kid that stands for everything that Georgia high school athletics is supposed to be about,” Chumley said. “What the GHSA is doing is disgraceful.”

Phillips takes exception to that notion. “He is certainly entitled to his opinion, but he does not sit where we sit,” Phillips said. “We followed our rules step by step to make sure we got it right. We have 451 members and we have to make sure all of our rules are applied fairly to all of them.  We’ll see what Oct. 7 holds.”

But Chumley said that is not good enough. “To me, this has gotten personal and political,” he said. “I’ve never been for the State Legislature getting involved in high school athletics. But if the GHSA is going to behave this way, I think we should step aside and let the politicians handle it.”

STC