WSAZ Investigates | 5 high school football programs sanctioned for violations

In our latest WSAZ investigation, we look into the matter of five West Virginia high school football programs sanctioned for violations.
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 7:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - It’s arguably one of the most anticipated weeks of the year in West Virginia high school sports -- the kickoff of football season.

But two coaches at Nitro High School and one from Sherman High School will not be on the sidelines for game one after the state’s Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) hit both with sanctions for recruiting violations.

The suspensions came after the new head of the WVSSAC, David Price, said they found evidence showing coaches broke the recruiting rule. Price explained that comes down to using undue influence in an effort to get an athlete to come to a school for athletic purposes. Those can include text messages, phone calls, even conversations.

The sanctions for each recruiting incident include a one-game suspension for the coach involved, a loss of eight “flex” practice days, and one year probation.

Nitro also is among four schools facing sanctions for violating practice progression rules. That rule is in place to keep athletes from getting injured.

The other three schools include Winfield, Herbert Hoover and Westside. That violation results in a loss of four flex days, as well as one year probation.

WSAZ’s Adriana Doria sat down with David Price on Monday to learn more about the violations and how these issues came to light.

DORIA: “Walk me through. What specifically were they doing? What was the violation?”

PRICE: “The rule is very plain, you know. You can’t use undue influence to try to influence a student athlete to come to your school and transfer. And obviously, we had evidence that we could substantiate that that did occur. And, you know, we have a lot of hearsay, a lot of reports coming our way from a lot of different schools. And we have a lot of investigations going on. And I’ll say several investigations going on right now have reported recruiting, and again, when it comes to a lot of gossip and rumors, especially on social media anymore, you know, we investigate that, but we go a lot beyond just the rumors. And we have to have hard evidence.”

DORIA: “How do you or your organization help to prevent a recruiting instance like this from happening?”

PRICE: “We know it happens, it’s going to happen, but we have to continue to educate our principals, our athletic directors. We have to educate our athletes, as well. And the parents need to be very much aware, too. And, as we’ve told our principals and athletic directors, through our summer trainings, don’t be the adult that causes a student athletes to be ineligible due to poor decisions of breaking rules.”

In 2023, a new law was passed that allows students in high school to transfer once and still maintain athletic eligibility.

DORIA: “Do you think that one time transfer rule was in the best interest of schools if it played a role here. Do you think that was a good decision?”

PRICE: “Looking from this standpoint, it opened the floodgates for other things. Each student athlete and their parent will have to determine whether that’s in their best interest and the reason they are transferring. It could be for academic reasons, social emotional reasons -- all kinds of reasons a student transfers, but when it’s for athletic reasons there are people trying to influence that whether it’s coaches, friends of coaches, community members, whomever it’s for the wrong reasons and that’s when we have the unintended consequences that we are having to deal with.”

Price said fortunately no athletes were involved in the recruiting, so no athletes are facing sanctions. But he said these types of recruiting instances are an attempt to take high school athletics away from what they are meant to be.

DORIA: “Do you think that there are some instances where people would use this to create kind of an all-star team to say, in this recruiting ineligibility?”

PRICE: “I think, in some cases, that’s exactly what’s happening. And high school sports were never intended to be that. And, you know, as far as we’re concerned, in our organization, we have to try to maintain the integrity of high school sports and what they’re intended to be, and was never intended to be putting together those all-star teams, as they do in the summer to travel around to win tournaments.”

These school officials released the following statements to us:

“The WVSSAC received information and ran an investigation that Nitro High School fully complied with. From this investigation they made a ruling which Nitro is not contesting. We are taking the steps now to ensure this error will not occur again.” (Nitro High School Athletic Director Garrett Burdette)

“We take each violation seriously. We will follow the sanctions and will handle each situation via any appropriate policies and procedures.” (Kanawha County Schools Communications Director Briana Warner)

“In regards to the Sherman High School football team being penalized by the WVSSAC for recruiting violations, we have been fully cooperative with WVSSAC in addressing this matter. In addition, we are being proactive and working with the school to ensure this does not occur in the future.” (Boone County Schools Superintendent Matt Riggs).

“Winfield High School has been made aware of the WVSSAC sanctions and will take the appropriate action to ensure that the violation will not occur again. Whether in the classroom or on the field, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority.” (Winfield High School)

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