BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A FOX 5 I-Team investigation into a high school championship football team led to a massive effort to dramatically change state rules. Every Georgia high school coach and athletic director has been asked to sign a petition aimed at stopping what many agree is widespread cheating over where a student should actually be playing.
The target of this petition is the Georgia High School Association. The GHSA has the power to punish when it finds schools or parents breaking the rules. Critics say this is an effort to make them do their job.
"They keep saying they can't do anything," stressed Georgia Board of Education chairman Mike Royal. "No. They won't do anything."
For years, coaches across the state complained star athletes wound up somehow playing for established programs even though they didn't actually live in that school district.
A FOX 5 I-Team investigation discovered two key players on Allatoona High School's championship football team living in Paulding County, not Cobb.
"We're here in and out and we've been here for four years," admitted Lashawn Hallimon, the mother of one of those players, while talking to the FOX 5 I-Team in her Paulding County driveway.
But when the FOX 5 I-Team tried to bring our findings to the Cobb County school district, no one there wanted to get involved. Neither did the Georgia High School Association, which takes the position that once a player enters the 9th grade they have no jurisdiction, even if the player and his family secretly lived somewhere else.
Last December, Allatoona High School beat Glynn Academy 10-6 for the AAAAA championship.
"Candidly, we feel cheated," stressed Craig Entwistle, the father of one of the Glynn Academy players. "I feel cheated as a parent. I know the coaches feel cheated."
So Glynn Academy parents formed a group called the Georgia Coalition for Fair Play. Their petition, sent to 446 Georgia high school coaches and athletic directors, urged the GHSA to require certification of residency each year, not just in the 9th grade. And if a school was caught with a player not in the district, they'd be forced to not just forfeit all games, but all playoff money, too.
"If GHSA is not going to govern, then someone needs to put pressure on them to enforce their rules," Entwistle demanded. "If they're not going to enforce their rules, then why do they exist?"
GHSA executive director Gary Phillips would not comment. But the chairman of the Georgia Board of Education had plenty to say.
"It's past time to do something about it," he insisted. "If they would take enforcement action against a few they know are violating the law, then I think they would go a long ways to cleaning it up pretty quickly."
"How out of control is it right now do you think?"
"It's worse than people think."
That's because address fraud is only half the problem. What about those kids who transfer in the middle of their high school career because they want to play for a better team? Their world could get a lot more complicated.
Since Christmas, four rising seniors have transferred to football powerhouse Grayson High School in Gwinnett County. All four standout players may have legitimately moved into the district. There's no evidence anyone from Grayson recruited them. That would violate GHSA rules.
But even if they had been recruited to transfer, proving such a violation is often impossible. That's why the Glynn Academy petition also called for GHSA to require any transfer student sit out one year from playing sports unless his or her old coach releases them to play for the new school.
"If a child moves within a certain distance from their home school, they're ineligible for a year," explained chairman Royal who supports the petition. "And there's a waiver process."
Putting the burden on the player to prove that he and his family really did have to move.
"That's understandable," Royal agreed. "That happens every day and that's a right to do that. But it doesn't have to be on the basis of recruiting in high school athletics."
Many fear letting high school athletes go to any school they prefer would create a handful of powerhouse programs at the expense of most other schools. The Georgia Coalition for Fair Play's petition will be presented later this summer. So what if GHSA refuses to adopt any of those proposals?
"Well, GHSA's got some decisions to make," predicted chairman Royal. "In my opinion, I think there would be a long legislative session next year if they did that."