Gallagher column: Salisbury dealing with the disappointment
By Ronnie Gallagher
Well, Dario Hamilton was told as he walked off the practice field on Thursday, at least Salisbury will still be in the playoffs.
That was little consolation to the school’s all-time leading rusher.
“Being in the playoffs isn’t even the point,” Hamilton scoffed. “They’re taking something back that we earned.”
What the North Carolina High School Athletic Association took was a 10-0 season and a chance at being one of the few Rowan County football teams to ever finish a regular season undefeated.
Salisbury was forced to forfeit four games due to an ineligible player, a transfer from North Rowan. The number of days David Dubose missed at North was more than the number of plays he got in with the Hornets this season.
While head coach and athletics director Joe Pinyan and principal Windsor Eagle thought his transcript was legit, and allowed the kid to play, they overlooked the excessive number of absences. Someone turned in Salisbury to the state association. An investigation followed.
And now, Hamilton is a star on a 6-4 football team.
Pinyan’s head has been swirling since the Hornets beat North 52-8 last week. He’s heard all of the rumors of who turned his team in, of who called who. He read in the Lexington newspaper that Ledford coach Chuck Henderson wouldn’t shed a tear if Salisbury had to forfeit games. (Pinyan noted Henderson left a phone message last night saying he didn’t say that).
It has hurt Pinyan, but as he said, “It is what it is.”
What really disappointed Pinyan was the reaction of his team when he broke the news.
“These kids take a lot of pride in what they’ve done. The assistant coaches take a lot of pride in they’ve done,” Pinyan said.
There were many sullen looks on the faces of the Hornets, who only last week clinched Pinyan’s sixth straight Central Carolina Conference championship. Suddenly, they’re 2-4 in the league playing Providence Grove tonight for sixth place.
And what about tonight? What kind of performance can we expect?
“We could be real focused, play hard and make a statement,” Pinyan said. “If it’s like that, I don’t want anything in the paper about running up the score because there will be a lot of points.
“Or it might be a game where we fight for our lives because we’re so physically and emotionally drained.”
What type of Salisbury team does Providence Grove coach Todd Shuping expect to arrive at his field?
“Probably an angry team,” he said.
Pinyan was quick to note Dubose feels terribly and he shouldn’t.
“You meet him today and he’s as nice as a kid could be,” Pinyan said. “I feel sorry for him. He feels like he let his teammates down. It isn’t his fault. It goes back to an official document not being official.”
Dubose played in games against Central Davidson, East Davidson, Ledford and North.
Four wins by a combined 185-22 score. All were decided way before he went in.
Now, each of those teams get a win. Think Tasker Fleming over at North, who was 0-10 before yesterday, is bragging about his first win in Cavalier green being a forfeit? I doubt it.
“Personally,” a beleaguered Pinyan said, “I wouldn’t want a win like that.”
Pinyan always talks about the integrity of the program. He has had, without a doubt, one of North Carolina’s top programs in any classification since he arrived in 2002. It was ranked sixth in the state yesterday and was sure to be a No. 1 seed. That’s why this was mind-boggling to everyone in the Hornets’ locker room.
“For something like this to happen, it’s just unbelievable,” Pinyan said. “We would never do anything to jeopardize an 0-10 season, much less a 10-0 season. I promise you, this mistake will never happen again. But it doesn’t make it any better for those kids and their parents.”
Pinyan saw seniors like Hamilton trying to be leaders and keep the stiff upper lip. But he knows teenagers’ emotions can be fragile.
“The kids aren’t mad at me or the kid (Dubose). I think they’re mad at the Lexingtons and the North Rowans and the people who turned us in,” Pinyan said.
Pinyan thinks the NCHSAA could have been a bit more compassionate in its decision. Pinyan and Eagle did everything they thought was right to get a kid on the team, even if he wasn’t a star. Or even a starter.
“If it’s a Dario or an A.J. Ford rushing for 200 yards and they’re not eligible, that’s different,” Pinyan said. “We reached out to help a kid that we thought was eligible.”
Where was the sympathy from the state, Pinyan wanted to know.
“They’re just trying to push their weight around and that’s unfair.”
It’s over now. Go ahead and write it down. Salisbury is 6-4. But you can already envision a new mindset from the Hornets as they prepare for tonight and then, the state playoffs.
“We’ll probably go in at 6-4 which would make us an 11th seed,” Pinyan said. “That means a No. 6 seed will get their head rocked.”
“We’re not worried about being 6-4,” he said. “We know what we’re capable of. When the playoffs come, we’re going to prove the record doesn’t mean anything.”
First up, there’s Providence Grove, which plays its game in a community called Climax.
If the Hornets are as resilient as Pinyan expects them to be, it could be the climax of an unbeaten regular season ó with an asterisk.
“After (tonight), Pinyan said with determination, “we plan on being 11-0. We don’t care what the state says.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or email@example.com.