"There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong."
- H.L. Mencken
We all know the story.
Lakeside High School Athletic Director and head football coach Jody Grooms, hired just this year to help turn around a lackluster Panther football team, intentionally ran an illegal play near the end of the Nov. 2 game vs. Effingham County High School.
The ploy failed when an Effingham defender picked off the pass to an illegal receiver who had stepped off the sidelines and onto the field just seconds earlier. Effingham's victory took the team a step closer to the playoffs, and ended Grooms' inaugural season with a 3-7 record for Lakeside.
The bigger question is whether that one play will end Grooms' career.
Opinions have fallen into two sharply divided camps:
- Give him the ax: Swift and sure of themselves, this camp immediately called for Grooms to be fired. Not only did he cheat, they say, but he used players to do so.
- Forgive and forget: Equally sure, but in smaller numbers, this camp consists largely of current Lakeside players, families and boosters. Grooms, they contend, doesn't deserve a career-ending penalty because of one mistake.
There's little room between these two sides. But with a deep breath, let us attempt to inject some reason into this debate.
First, it's important to point out that this newspaper is on record disagreeing with the removal of Lakeside's former athletic director, Randy Hill. If Hill's defenders had prevailed, Grooms wouldn't be here in the first place. No offense to Grooms, but Hill had done nothing to deserve removal - except, perhaps, in the eyes of football boosters who now are forced to defend Grooms.
So when we say that killing Grooms' career is an overreaction, it isn't because we've been a cheerleader from the beginning - just the opposite.
There is no question that what Grooms did was wrong. It was, in fact, utterly despicable. Fortunately, Grooms seems to understand that better than anyone else.
Everything thus far points to the conclusion that this wasn't a case of a win-at-all-costs coach trying by hook and crook to gain unfair advantage; instead, the evidence says Grooms ran the play in what amounted to a very poorly thought-out practical joke. Not only did it fail, but Grooms - and Lakeside's reputation - got burned when Effingham's coach caught the play on tape.
Despite the fevered pitch of commentary in recent days, the game isn't yet over. School officials still are sorting out Grooms' future, especially as it regards his multiple jobs: Athletic director, coach, teacher. Does a stupid decision in one of those jobs warrant his removal from all of them?
We don't think so - and precedent backs that up. Twenty years ago, in the infamous Evans High helmet-radio incident - also against Effingham County - then-coach Coley Cassedy was fined and disciplined, but he wasn't fired. And three years ago, when a Riverside Middle teacher was found to have provided her students ahead of time with the questions on the state's writing test, she was reprimanded and suspended - but she wasn't fired.
In both cases, the disciplined employees resigned. While we aren't necessarily suggesting Grooms quit, the drumbeat against him could make it inevitable. And that doesn't even include any later action from the state's Professional Standards Commission on the ethics complaint the school system filed against him.
In the meantime, futile as it might seem to call for patience when the mob is screaming for blood, the entire community would do itself a great service to step back and let the slow wheels of investigation finish grinding.
Running an ineligible player onto the field to catch a pass is illegal. But so is piling on.
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