One for the books? Maybe. High school stats in question

Staff WriterJune 26, 2011 

  • On Oct. 19, 2002, The Charlotte Observer reported that Chris Leak threw for 585 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for a ninth as No. 2 nationally ranked Independence High School routed North Mecklenburg, 77-6, the previous evening. The Observer noted that the performance set a state individual game passing yardage record.

    Former Independence coach Tom Knotts and current coach Bill Geiler said they don't have film of that game. Geiler researched what was available and said they have film only back to 2004.

    Knotts said an assistant coach, Jon Strong, checked statistics off the game film. He said the Patriots had a play that was a shovel pass in the backfield and Leak would always take a step backward so the play would count as a forward pass. Knotts said Strong was always meticulous about checking stats and always verified details such as the shovel pass being a forward pass.

    Knotts didn't remember reporting the performance to the NCHSAA nor did he remember anyone asking for verification of the record.

    "I would follow (Leak's) progress in the paper like everybody else, his touchdowns, his yardage," said Knotts, who now coaches at Dutch Fork (S.C.) High. "When (the Observer) would say, 'He's close to breaking a record,' that would stick with me and if he needed 400 yards to break one and he got 280, I'd say, 'Well, we're 120 away.'"

    Langston Wertz Jr.

An article on the Sunday about the state high school football passing record misstated the name of the father of Broughton quarterback Will Cooper. Cooper's father is Scott Cooper.

Will Cooper was carrying his cleats and catcher's gear when he bumped into three classmates outside Broughton High School after baseball practice in May.

"Hey," one of them said, "didn't you break some football state record?"

Cooper, a rising senior quarterback for Broughton, had heard the question often since his game against Wakefield on Oct. 28 went into the record book as the state mark for the most passing yards in a game.

"Well," Cooper said, "I might not have broken it after all. There's been a debate."

That debate emerged after a News & Observer examination of the game film showed that Cooper appeared to have thrown for 15 yards less than he is credited with. His 600-yard game illustrates just how difficult it is to keep accurate statewide high school sports statistics and maintain a valid record book.

At least two other records - the stolen bases mark for a single game and the most kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season - were entered before having to be removed from the state association's website.

For almost 20 years, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has kept state records to mark the achievements of high school athletes, relying on coaches to verify accuracy. It has just one staffer - who has numerous other duties - to monitor the process. So far this school year, it has added 300 entries to its record book.

The association says it does not have the staff to independently review stats or give extra attention to confirming records, which other state associations do to ensure authenticity.

No one at the state office looked closely at Cooper's feat to determine whether he had broken the record of 585 yards set in 2002 by Chris Leak, the former Charlotte Independence star, before putting Cooper's name into its record book.

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said more emphasis should go into examining records.

"If you don't have integrity with records," Tackett said, "don't have records."

A look at the tape

Questions about the accuracy of Cooper's record arose in April, when an N&O reporter who had covered the Broughton-Wakefield game asked Wakefield coach J.D. Dinwiddie for comment for a story about the passing mark. Dinwiddie, whose own stats showed Cooper's yardage at 508 instead of 600, told The N&O then: "I don't think it's accurate. Six hundred yards sounds like a lot."

The N&O then requested a videotape of the game from Broughton coach Chris Martin.

The tape, recorded by a Broughton student, includes every play from the game. It showed several plays that, based on high school football rules, should not have counted as pass plays.

The tape appeared to show that Cooper passed for 585 yards on 30 completions, tying instead of surpassing Leak, best known for leading the Florida Gators to a national championship in 2006.

In reviewing Broughton's video, two reporters from The N&O identified six plays that appeared to be recorded inaccurately - three laterals from Cooper and three plays where the ball was spotted differently than on Martin's spreadsheet. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), any pass not thrown toward the line of scrimmage is considered a run. The six plays accounted for 15 yards.

Martin and Rick Strunk, associate commissioner for the NCHSAA, declined to view the six plays.

Martin had submitted the Broughton videotape, along with an Excel spreadsheet, to the high school association in early January as evidence that Cooper had passed for 600 yards against Wakefield. The association posted the record on its website later in the month. Coaches are not required to send video evidence when submitting a record.

No one at the NCHSAA viewed the entire tape. Nor did anyone there check the totals with Wakefield's coaches.

For a record to be confirmed by the state association, a coach must fill out a national high school recognition form. Next, the coach can provide a score sheet, a play-by-play summary, a statistical computer printout or a written article mentioning the record. If the association's math matches that of the coach's, the record is accepted. It does not save any documentation.

"You have to hope the rules were followed," said Strunk, editor of the state record book. "The printed version of what came with the tape added up to 600."

Most football coaches in the Triangle watch game film to record their stats before the next game. Dinwiddie didn't watch the Broughton game tape during the season. Instead, his assistant coach, Brian Reeves, and his wife, Melanie, recorded Wakefield's stats during games on an iPad.

"I would say nine times out of 10 the high schools [in this area] probably have a [junior varsity] player or a teenager taking stats," Reeves said. "... Accuracy doesn't seem to be playing a role on our part as well as other people's part."

Though Dinwiddie declined to share his school's game videotape with The N&O, he said he was surprised the association never asked to see it.

"If they wanted to make sure this thing was right," Dinwiddie said, "they would check every possible outlet."

No time to check

Scott Cooper, Will Cooper's father, has uploaded 43 highlights on YouTube of his son, who he says has been recruited by ACC and other Division I schools.

While watching his videotape of Wakefield's 45-42 victory, Scott Cooper added up enormous yardage.

"I really couldn't see the down marker," Scott Cooper said. "I just guesstimated 600 yards."

He shared the total with Martin, who reviewed Will Cooper's stats in January.

"We just broke down the film with every yard and pass," Martin said.

Strunk, after receiving the videotape at the state association office in Chapel Hill, watched "most of the first quarter" and then decided to approve the record.

Strunk, responsible for media relations and writing and designing all publications among other duties, said he didn't have time to review Martin's entire 32-minute video.

"I couldn't possibly go through the tape," he said.

Cooper's game remains listed as a record on the state association's website.

Bobby Guthrie, the Wake County Schools athletic director and a member of the NCHSAA board, says he knows it's a lot to ask of Strunk to watch the entire videotape, but says that for the association to verify records properly, it needs someone with enough time to make it their sole responsibility.

The association has not changed its requirements for submitting a record since starting the record book in 1994. Davis Whitfield, commissioner of the state association, said he hasn't heard enough complaints from schools to add new requirements now.

"I don't know if there is ever a sure-fire process for anything," Whitfield said.

Other states check

Though there is no national standard for recordkeeping, others state associations handle records differently than North Carolina.

The Texas University Interscholastic League doesn't have a state record book, considering the process too difficult for its staff. It submits national records only to the NFHS. The Florida High School Athletic Association only keeps state championship and postseason records because its officials can verify the records by being at those events. And though the Alabama High School Athletic Association has the same rules as the NCHSAA, staffers there have viewed video evidence to verify records.

Tackett, the Kentucky high school athletic commissioner, said his group has asked for video evidence at least a dozen times to verify records.

John Gillis, NFHS assistant director and editor of the national record book, agreed with Tackett about the need to focus on accuracy.

"It's very, very important that the submission be accurate when [a school] sends it to the state association," Gillis said. "If there is a tape sent to the state office, the hope and belief is that they are going to review it."

Two records disappear

Disputed records have made it into the NCHSAA's record book before.

Strunk said that more than four years ago the stolen bases record for a single game was compromised when a parent of a player from a Triangle school misrepresented himself as the team's scorekeeper. The parent faxed a copy of the scorebook that showed his son stealing both second and third bases when the player was actually advancing to third on throwing errors.

A week after posting the new record, Strunk removed it once he received a phone call from the coach telling him it was inaccurate.

Last football season, Harnett Central running back Jarrod Spears was awarded the record for most kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season, with four. After seeing media coverage, coaches at Durham's Jordan High School alerted the association that their receiver, T.J. Thorpe, had scored five touchdowns a year earlier.

Strunk believes the state records are as accurate as possible.

"I'm sure the batting averages of baseball players are based on the compilation of a 16-year-old keeping the book," he said. "I accept that as part of the way high schools sports operate. I'm not sure we can do much better."

Before the state association adjusts Cooper's record, Strunk wants both coaches to agree on a yardage total, which would be a new precedent for the state association.

Broughton's Martin said he is willing to try to reach an agreement, but Dinwiddie of Wakefield said he has too much to do and does not plan to contact the association or Broughton.

Quarterback's stoic

As for Will Cooper, dropping into a tie with Leak would be a letdown, but not a disaster.

"It would disappoint me a little bit, but I still feel like I had a good game," Cooper said. "Chris Leak was an amazing quarterback. I have no idea how I got past him."

Guthrie, athletic director of Wake County Schools, has a different outlook. He wants to ask questions, not just about Cooper, but ones that highlight the larger issue.

"How do we know the Charlotte [record] is correct?" Guthrie said. "Is Chris Leak's record any more valid than what the Cooper boy did?"

J. Mike Blake contributed to this report

nate.taylor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4538

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