Southern Durham head football coach Darius Robinson said his football program will get stronger after enduring the scrutiny it must face after forfeiting the playoff wins that got the Spartans to November’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA championship.
Southern, which finished 12-4 on the field in 2015, forfeited its last five wins after discovering it played with an unnamed player whose physical exam clearance had expired during the season, Robinson said.
Robinson said the lapse was noted after the season during a routine audit, and the NCHSAA determined that the athlete was ineligible to play after Nov. 30.
That meant the Spartans retroactively forfeited their last game of the regular season, a 61-12 win over Oxford Webb that helped secure a third straight conference crown for Southern, and the four playoff wins that led Southern back to the NCHSAA finals for the second time in three years. Crest High from Boiling Springs won the title 55-21.
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“At no point during the season did anyone here at Southern know about it,” Robinson said. “Once we found out, we were up front and honest about the whole thing.”
Robinson, who also serves as athletics director at Southern Durham, declined to name the player whose exam had expired and said the athlete in question didn’t know his eligibility had lapsed. “The kid doesn’t know it’s him,” he said.
Robinson said the Spartans’ conference forfeit gives the Big 8 league title to Orange (11-2 on-field), which matched Southern’s 5-1 conference record but lost head-to-head to Southern. Southern also knocked Orange out of the 2015 playoffs in a postseason meeting on Nov. 20.
All players in uniform – whether they participate in the game or not – must have a current physical to be eligible for NCHSAA competition.
“It is the responsibility of the school to maintain all player health records and to ensure all players have the proper medical paperwork to play during the entire season,” DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme wrote in an email issued Thursday night. “The Spartans accomplished great things on the field. No one can take that away from the players. But fair athletic competition means that every team must play by the same rules, and the physical exam requirement is there to protect our students.”
The Durham Public Schools system is “investigating the circumstances of this oversight,” DPS communications officer Chrissy Deal said in a prepared statement.
All public high schools require potential athletes to pass a physical exam to show they are fit for competition. The exam’s validity last one year from the time the examining physician signs the clearance form.
The NCHSAA passed a measure in December, after Southern’s infraction occurred, that there will be a built-in grace period of 30 days added for upcoming physicals.
No one at Southern realized until after the season that the athlete in question had a form that expired in November, Robinson said.
Robinson said his players, upon learning they must forfeit five games, handled the situation well.
“The kids understood,” said Robinson, who met with players and parents shortly before the public announcement. “I told them that this was like a storm, and the storm will pass, and 2016 is still in front of them.
“We’re still a good team – a very good team. We are going to grow and get better because of this.”
The Spartans’ 12-4 end-of-year mark will change to 7-9 with forfeit losses to J.F. Webb in the season finale and Chapel Hill, Orange, Cleveland and Northern Guilford in the 3AA playoffs.
Orange’s adjusted record is now 12-1.