Thomaston – Chad Campbell was not in his usual coaching attire, but this wasn’t a usual gathering.
The Peach County head coach, in suit coat and tie, spoke emotionally, sternly, and at times slightly confrontationally for nearly 50 minutes during a presentation to the Georgia High School Association’s Board of Trustees on Monday regarding misapplications of rules by officials during the Trojans’ 10-6 loss to Calhoun on Dec. 8 in the Class AAA state title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The primary focus was on the ruling of an incomplete pass on an apparent catch by Noah Whittington with 3:33 left in the game, Whittington catching a pass and reaching out to score, the ball coming loose as it crossed the goal line.
The pass was ruled incomplete, and Calhoun maintained its lead to win the game.
Campbell, surrounded by more than 40 assistant coaches, players, administrators and Trojan supporters, requested that the game be replayed, played from the point of the play with the rules properly applied, or Peach County named co-champions with Calhoun.
And he wants closure. That will apparently come at some point, but his hopes of other options being utilized won’t, GHSA executive director Robin Hines said afterward.
“That has never been a consideration,” he said of re-playing the final few minutes.
As for co-champions: “That’s never been a consideration.”
Campbell asked if any board members wanted to see video of the play in question, and none did. Campbell said several times he’s watched the play “a million times” and has seen nothing to change his mind. Hines said afterward the figured everybody in the room had seen the play “a thousand times.”
Only near the end did Campbell address that Whittington appeared to step out of bounds during his route. If a player is forced out of bounds, he may re-establish himself inbounds and touch the ball. If he goes out on his own, he may not be the first player to touch the ball.
“That’s so coincidental, you know that?” Campbell told the board. “He was pushed out of bounds, and it’s on video. He got shoved out of bound and established himself in bounds, like the National Federation rules say.
“They always say, the eye in the sky don’t lie.”
A large portion of Campbell’s speech dealt with a misapplication of the rules, primarily the definition of a catch. He said he wasn’t blaming the official who made the call, because Whittington’s back, and where the ball was located, was facing the official.
But one of Campbell’s biggest complaints was that the official got no help from the rest of the crew, that he was “blown off” when he asked for a meeting on the play with the head official, and that there was no conference to make sure the right call was made, even though, he said, other officials had a better view.
Campbell noted a few times how hard it was to deal with talking to his team after the game, and that the past 10 days have been very difficult. He said he winked at Whittington after the game and told him he made the catch, that he didn’t lose the game or let his team down.
Campbell said that as a member of the executive committee, he’s sat in on assorted appeals, and that it was always noted that association sought to do best by the students and student-athletes.
He said this was the time to prove it.
Campbell referenced an appeal regarding a Johns Creek-Lee County playoff baseball game last spring that was appealed and overturned, which led to the GHSA adopting a bylaw stating that judgment calls can’t be appealed.
White said that Monday was to hear Peach County out, but that no action would be taken then, and said the next board meeting was about a month away, and that no action would be taken then.
“How difficult would it be for the Board of Trustees to say …?” Campbell said. “Does it take a month? It didn’t take but a couple days for Johns Creek. How is that?
“And we got more of a case than they did.”
Another sticking point was the mixing of officials from different associations for championship games rather. Campbell said it appeared officials didn’t want to overrule or show up another official, and that the mixing of referees who may have never worked together is likely to have had a negative impact.
Campbell referenced several times that the Trojans and the community deserved more than just consolation about an incorrect official’s call.
“These kids deserve better than, ‘this is bad call, live with it, move on, learn from it,’” Campbell said. “Yeah, you learn a lot of things in life.”
The board asked no questions, and finally after more than 45 minutes – which included passionate pleas from a few in the audience, comments from Peach County superintendent Daryl Fineran and senior linebacker JaQuez Jackson, White said that everything discussed would be taken into consideration.
He reiterated that judgment calls can’t be appeals, drawing some groans and negative comments from the audience, many of whom questioned the GHSA’s integrity and talked of it needing to be abolished, upset that apparently no action will be taken.
Campbell said afterward that most aggravating part of the scenario was the lack of communication among the officials, when normally officials conference several times a game under less big-stage conditions than a state title game.
He had decided to take this action before the team had left Mercedes-Benz grounds.
“My idea, before we left that stadium,” he said. “I sat there, especially being with those 85 kids after the ballgame and trying to console them.”
Campbell appeared to hold out hope that something else might still happen.
“I don’t know when closure’s going to be,” he said. “They didn’t give any indication when closure’s going to be. It don’t take that long for adults to make a decision, know what I mean?
“We’ll just wait and see.”