The Lakeside High School football team's final offensive play of 2007 will never be remembered for the nice interception an Effingham County player made to keep his team's playoff hopes alive. Instead, the memories of an ill-advised, illegal play will haunt Lakeside.
I haven't known Lakeside athletic director and head football coach Jody Grooms long. My first interaction with him was when he was hired last spring, and I spoke with him on the phone and later met him in person.
Even though it's been less than a year, Grooms has proved to be a model citizen and high-class coach and person in every interaction I've had with him.
Last Friday he made a mistake. That's not just my opinion. It's his, too. For that reason, Grooms has sent written apologies to just about everyone who could possibly receive one.
All coaches have trick plays in their playbook. This one crossed the line that divides trick play from illegal play. Some people in Effingham County got the game tape, posted the clip on YouTube and have unmercifully blasted Grooms, the team and the school for a week. Many in the Augusta area have joined them.
Fortunately, even in this hard-to-handle situation, Grooms has stepped up and accepted the repercussions.
He didn't have to, but he called me back after I left a message telling him I was writing a story about it. His reason was clear.
"I want to apologize," he said. "There's times when people will be defined by one moment. This might be it. I'm blessed to have a few good friends who know me well enough to know that this isn't me. I want them to know that."
Lakeside Principal Jeff Carney said on Thursday that Grooms will be punished, but he will not be fired.
That, too, is the right way to handle this situation.
I've spoken with several people in and around Lakeside and, though the opinions differ about what should be done, the initial reaction to the whole ordeal has always been the same no matter who I talked to. Everyone was shocked that Grooms did it. It's just not like him.
Of course, the most concerning aspect of the whole ordeal is the kids participated in the cheating. Hopefully, through all this conviction in the court of public opinion, they've learned something.
So we'll move on. In another week or two, these pages will be filled with basketball stories, wrestling photos and the usual winter sports. Grooms will continue to serve as athletic director and football coach.
In the future, Internet message boards and the general rumor mill will occasionally buzz with this topic. It'll be especially heavy whenever Effingham County comes to town. That's just the nature of public opinion.
Fortunately, there are people at Lakeside High School who did not overreact. The system has been allowed to do what it's set up to do, and it worked well in this situation.
It could have been much worse.
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