Dear Effingham County High School:
Though it might be hard for you to believe, Columbia County high schools aren't full of cheaters.
Really - we promise.
We know you've been down this road with us before, so our credibility might be a little iffy. Twenty years ago, before any of your current football players were born, a coach at Evans High School decided to sneak a not-very-well-hidden radio into his quarterback's helmet.
Yeah, we know - dumb move. And to make matters worse, that little trick meant Evans later had to forfeit that 1987 playoff game after they were caught.
We learned from that. Really. But time passes, and people forget. In fact, that was the same year Lakeside High School here in Columbia County was born, so its current players weren't alive then, either.
The problem could be that Lakeside has DNA from Evans, because the school took part of the Evans High population when it opened. So perhaps a recessive cheating gene was passed along and lay dormant for a generation. We aren't really sure.
But that could help explain why Jody Grooms, an otherwise very nice fellow, used his Lakeside football players to try to cheat their way to victory in the game against your Effingham County High team Nov. 2.
Unlike that 1987 game that sent the Knights to the playoffs, this year's game really didn't mean much. The Panthers already had won one more game than the previous year, when the football team set its worst-ever record at 2-8 and signaled the end of Randy Hill's time as football coach.
Still, a win would not only have knocked your school out of the playoffs, it would have avenged the 41-0 thumping the Effingham team gave Lakeside the year before. So even though Grooms' trick-or-cheat play failed, it could have at least salvaged a little dignity for the Panthers.
And, yes, we know the play wasn't really all that creative. Even so, the referees who have been so eagle-eyed in flagging Lakeside all year didn't notice that a player stepped onto the field 40 yards from the line of scrimmage just in time for a Hail Mary pass.
Maybe if he'd caught the ball, instead of it being intercepted by an Effingham player to end the game, the zebras would have wondered how that Lakeside receiver covered so much distance so quickly.
Because the refs didn't notice, the game ended with another road loss for the Panthers, and another long bus ride home. We've had a lot of those this year, see, and they're awfully tough. We're sorry Lakeside's little trick didn't get noticed until you Effingham folks watched the game film and saw that receiver wasn't so fleet of foot, and reported it to Grooms' boss at Lakeside.
Coach Grooms is being punished for it, we promise. We don't know what that punishment is - probably not something involving clapping erasers or running wind-sprints - but now that it's all over, and now that he's apologized in writing, we're sure he feels just terrible about the whole episode.
The rest of us do, too, because we believe coaches should play by the rules, and especially shouldn't encourage their players to cheat - even though, just a few days earlier, we all cheered loudly when Georgia Coach Mark Richt goaded his players to get a penalty by breaking the rule against excessive celebration in the Florida game.
So please, Dear Effingham County, don't hold it against the rest of us. We think cheating is really, really bad, and we're ashamed that twice now one of our coaches has used our kids to cheat against your players.
And we promise to never, ever do it again. At least for 20 more years.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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