SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Beach Lady Bulldogs were the number one seed in the GHSA Region 3 Class AAA tournament. Thursday night, they had just defeated Savannah High by 15 points on their home court to advance. A match-up with fellow powerhouse, two-seed Johnson looming ahead for the championship.
Before that title game could come, a fight broke out following that final buzzer Thursday. The Lady Bulldogs won the game, but both teams have lost their post-season hopes.
Hours before the Bulldogs were set to tip-off against Johnson for the region championship on Friday, Beach High Head Coach Olufemi Gordon confirmed that the team had been barred from playing any other games this season because of the fight.
The final buzzer had sounded on the game at Beach High School as the benches cleared. The Lady Bulldogs had advanced to the championship game, 50-35, when the fight broke out.
Cleveland Rougier, a parent to a Beach High senior basketball player said he told his daughter before the game, “Play hard as you can, because who knows, this might be your last game.”
When he said that, he was referring to COVID and the fact that the season could be halted at any moment. He said he never dreamed that a fight would be what ended his daughter’s senior season. Rougier said his daughter was in the locker room getting her ankle taped when the incident happened.
The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) says the decision did not come from them to suspend the teams from playing, that it would have come from the district. The GHSA says the organization did fine both schools an undisclosed amount and put them on “severe warning status.”
A group of Beach basketball parents think the punishment is too severe and are hoping that the school system will reconsider and choose to suspend individual players and strip the Bulldogs of the opportunity to play for the region title, but not the state tournament.
“Lets be clear: we do not condone violence. We do not condone fighting. We do not condone assaulting, but what we are standing for is the right for our children as a team to play as a team,” said Reese Ferguson, flanked by other Lady Bulldog parents on Friday afternoon. “Those who need to be punished, should have been, but we do not condone violence at all. We are not standing here saying that we do. We are just fighting for our kids.”
“That has no place in the game,” Rougier added.
The parents created an online petition, which got over 1,200 signatures in less than 24 hours.
Aziyriah Phillips, a Bulldogs freshman player admits that she threw one of the first punches. She says someone lunged at her, and she reacted. She wrote a letter that her mother sent to her coaches, district officials and the GHSA, asking that they suspend her, but let her teammates compete.
“I acknowledge that tensions were high, and being the student athlete I am, I understand that fighting in sports is a problematic issue. I will take the high responsibility of admitting that I should have just walked away during the altercation,” it read in part.
WTOC reached out to leaders with Savannah High, but have not heard back.
According to District Athletic Director John Sanders through a district spokesperson, no charges have been filed from the fight, which was also confirmed by Savannah Police.
“No charges are being brought forward as far as we know. GHSA handles rulings and penalties for all fights during Athletic Contests per information received from the event officials.”
The Lady Bulldogs will end their 2020-21 campaign at 11-3 overall and widely considered one of the top ten Class AAA teams in the state. The Blue Jackets end at 7-9 overall.
With the championship game off, Johnson became the region champion by default.
The state tournament was set to begin on February 23.
Savannah Chatham County Public School System released the following statement:
“On Thursday evening, February 18, 2021, an on-court altercation occurred between two players on the Beach High and Savannah High Girls Basketball teams just as a game between the two teams was ending. The incident led to members of both teams, along with spectators, rushing onto the court towards the altercation.
These actions are in direct violation of GHSA Rules on Sportsmanship and do not embody the high standards that are expected of our student athletes. As a result, both teams will be withheld from play for the next two scheduled contests as stipulated in GHSA Rule 2.71 – Rules on Sportsmanship. Based on where the season stands, this disqualification will allow no further play by these two teams in regional or state competition, meaning both teams will forfeit the remainder of their seasons.
The incident Thursday evening was inappropriate and does not represent the high standards the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System expects its student athletes to uphold. Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett says, “I am deeply disappointed at the behavior displayed by those involved in this situation and regretful for the loss of the opportunity for continued play. Unfortunately, these students violated the rules set by the Georgia High Schools Association and the expectations set by the school district for sportsmanship. That disappointment is compounded by the amount of effort it took to even allow teams to play this year during the pandemic.”
GHSA has offered support of the district’s adherence to the Rules of Sportsmanship. The applicable rules are cited below.
GHSA Rules on Sportsmanship
(d) Each school must develop a plan to handle fight situations that may occur during an athletic contest. (1) Attention must be given to keeping substitutes in the bench areas throughout the fight, and to keeping spectators away from the competitive area.
(2) Schools whose substitutes leave the bench area to go to the area of a fight will be fined by the GHSA Executive Director.
(3) All players who are involved in a fight and any substitutes who leave the bench area during a fight or potential fight and are ejected from the current contest, will be subject to the sit-out rule.
Any player, coach, or team attendant who is ejected from a GHSA contest shall be suspended from all levels of competition (i.e., varsity or sub-varsity) in that sport or activity (regular season or playoffs) until the period of suspension has expired.
(d) The period of suspension resulting from an ejection will expire as follows:
(5) All Other Activities: after the individual has been withheld from the next two (2) scheduled contests at the level at which the ejection occurred.”