GHSA based Valdosta decision mostly on Rush Propst audiotape

Valdosta Wildcats warm up prior to the start of a football game in 2015.
Valdosta Wildcats warm up prior to the start of a football game in 2015.

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

A final appeal regarding fines, playoff ban of football team set for May 4

The Georgia High School Association’s decision to ban Valdosta’s football team from the playoffs, declare five players ineligible and fine the school $7,500 was based primarily on the 15-minute secret audiotape of coach Rush Propst.

ExploreMark Bradley: Football. Money. And an audiotape

That was evident Monday during Valdosta’s failed appeal in Thomaston and reaffirmed Wednesday by GHSA investigation records obtained and reported by WALB-TV in Albany.

The GHSA also considered sworn statements from Valdosta administrators and the parents of the players and from Michael “Nub” Nelson, the former Valdosta Touchdown Club director who recorded the audiotape in which Propst discussed getting money to help transfer players with rent and utility bills.

The GHSA presented no evidence of financial records of Valdosta’s booster club or offered no evidence of money spent on any player’s behalf.

Propst was asked to send a sworn statement to answer charges that he illegally recruited five players into the football program, but the GHSA never received one, GHSA executive director Robin Hines confirmed Wednesday. It’s possible that Valdosta received one and chose not to use it in its case, which defended the administration and players and not its coach.

Propst did not attend Monday’s appeals hearing on advice of his attorney and has made only limited comments since February, when Nelson first accused Propst of recruiting and financial misconduct. “I respect the GHSA’s appeals process,’' Propst said Wednesday, reiterating past comments.

Propst was placed on administrative leave last month while Valdosta and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission investigates allegations against him.

Valdosta’s final appeal is scheduled for May 4 before the 14-member GHSA board of trustees at the GHSA’s office in Thomaston.

On Monday, a four-person GHSA committee unanimously denied Valdosta’s appeal despite two hours of testimony by parents of the four ineligible players who are juniors and cannot participate in any sport at any GHSA school through their senior years. Each said they had not received any money from the Valdosta booster club or any inducement to transfer.

Valdosta’s superintendent, principal and athletic director each testified Monday, defending their school against charges that they lacked institution control, which drew a $2,500 fine. The school was fined $1,000 apiece for each player that allegedly was recruited.

The five ineligible players are quarterbacks Jake Garcia and Amari Jones, wide receiver Tajh Sanders, running back Jamad Willis and linebacker Ty’Li Lewis. Garcia, who graduated, is an early enrollee at the University of Miami. The other four are juniors.

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