Editors' Note: The Columbia County School Board met Tuesday night to discuss Lakeside High School head football coach Jody Grooms, after this column went to press .
By now all of you know about the incident that took place in Lakeside High School's final football game. The team ran an illegal play in the closing seconds of a 7-0 loss at Effingham County.
The tape was reviewed by Effingham County's coaching staff, who caught the illegal play and turned the tape over to Effingham County's principal, who reported the play to Lakeside Principal Jeff Carney.
Lakeside head coach Jody Grooms was raked over the coals on Internet message boards and on most local radio shows. A vast majority of the people were calling for his head.
"If this is the type of thing he will teach our kids, send him back to North Carolina," griped one irate caller to The Austin Rhodes Show .
Many had similar sentiments. Some were furious with Carney for his stance that Grooms would not lose his job over the incident. Some wanted the school board to step in. A few people even blamed the players for participating. This was a heated topic with little room on the fence.
The first time I saw the video, I was shocked that Lakeside attempted the play. However, I also immediately stated that coach Grooms shouldn't lose his job over this. While the play was certainly not a good idea and he deserved some type of punishment, firing Grooms would have been a bad move.
I realize this might not be the most popular stance, but I am being honest. You have to look at the coach's entire body of work, and in Grooms' case, his body of work is impressive.
He was not run out of North Carolina before coming to Columbia County. Quite the contrary. The fans, players, parents and faculty begged him to stay when word got out that he was taking a new job. This guy was beloved in the Tar Heel state, and it did not take long for him to make an impression at Lakeside.
The Panther faithful were gushing over Grooms from the minute he walked out of the interview room. I heard from more than a dozen parents in the preseason who raved about his attitude and approach with the players.
It showed on the field, too. Lakeside only won three games, but they were competitive and earned the respect of their opponents.
Now, I will be the first to say that you need to forget wins and losses when reprimanding a coach. You cannot let a coach slide on the rules because you think he will bring success on the field.
However, in Grooms' case, it wasn't about wins and losses but more about the positive attitude he brought to Lakeside and all the good things he seemed to be doing.
Today it seems we are quick to call for people's heads. It seems like the minute there is a dispute of any kind, some people immediately try to sue someone or get them fired.
I am in no way condoning what coach Grooms chose to do. It was wrong, and he knows that. I realize that he was trying to lighten the mood for a team in their last game of a tough year. But he should have come up with another way to inspire his team. However, should he be fired over this? I say no.
A lot of people have said he is setting a terrible example for the kids and ask how they will learn that there are consequences for their actions if the coach keeps his job.
Well, first off, if you think coach Grooms has not learned a huge and very valuable lesson, you just are not being honest.
Secondly, I think Grooms will be able to use this as a great testimonial for his players for years to come. When I spoke to Grooms last week, I could hear the embarrassment and sadness in his voice.
The coach told me the toughest thing was having to explain the situation to his players and to his 6-year-old son. However, the fact that he was explaining his error to his boys (his son and his players) shows what type of guy he is.
People are entitled to their own opinions about Grooms. I certainly do not expect to sway those calling for his ouster, but I hope Grooms is around in 2008 and for years to come. I think Lakeside High School and its football program will be better for it.
So to the school board: Please stay out of this one. Let Carney and the GHSA handle this case.
To the Lakeside players: I understand you are trying to defend your coach, but please quit calling this a "trick play." It is an illegal play that should not have been run, and Grooms would tell you the same thing.
To Grooms: I think a trip to Effingham County to apologize in person and an apology at a Lakeside assembly would go a long way. Do not shy away from this topic. Instead, use it to show people the damage a lapse in judgment can cause. Keep your head up, too, because there are plenty of young people who will be counting on you next season.
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