GALION, Ohio — The Ohio High School Athletic Association’s two game suspension of Galion football coach Chris Hawkins stemmed from “several” violations of recruiting bylaws.
The OHSAA released a statement early Wednesday afternoon, a day after suspending Hawkins for the first two games of the upcoming season and placing the athletic department on probation until Aug. 1, 2017.
The OHSAA also suspended a player who transferred to Galion from all preseason scrimmages and the first game of the 2015 season, fined Galion City Schools $750 and is requiring the district to submit an action plan to educate all coaches on recruiting bylaws.
“The Galion High School head football coach violated several OHSAA bylaws that prohibit recruiting student-athletes to a school for athletic reasons,” OHSAA Director of Information Services Tim Stried said in a statement emailed from the OHSAA. “The OHSAA is disappointed in the actions of the coach, who disregarded the bylaws that the member schools, including Galion, have voted into place.”
In its ruling, the OHSAA noted four specific points of concern:
• Bylaw 4-9-3 #6: “Providing athletic camp brochures that advertise athletic camps available to general population is permissible as long as no direct mailing to specific individuals is conducted.” A Galion coach gave a brochure to a non-enrolled student’s father.
• Bylaw 4-9-4 #1: “Using direct mailings or electronic communication to send information to a specific individual by name.” A Galion coach sent a team text to players asking them to welcome a player who just moved to town. The player was specifically named before officially enrolling at Galion High School.
• Bylaw 4-9-4 #6: “Providing favors or inducements, such as T-shirts or caps, to prospective student-athletes or their parents.” A Galion coach allowed a non-enrolled player to borrow a football helmet to be used at a Football Camp.
• Bylaw 4-9-6: “All questions relating to enrollment, attendance or athletic program shall be handled through the school administration or admissions office.” A Galion coach did report initial contact by a parent in regards to enrollment, but a coach did not adequately handle additional phone calls and/or texts.
Hawkins, who took over the downtrodden program in 2007 and returned it to prominence, will appeal the suspension.
“Recruiting a kid means you go get a kid and you want him to come here. That wasn’t the case. We were approached,” said Hawkins, who is 53-31 with four playoff appearances in eight seasons at Galion. “Everybody who is interested and approaches our athletic director or whoever, I always say the same thing: ‘Here is what we’re about. Here is what we do. We demand a lot and we expect a lot. If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you’d like to be a student-athlete, we’d love to have you. If it is not something you’d like to do, you shouldn’t come here.’
“I thought we were following the rules and I still do.”
The most recent version of the OHSAA bylaws is a massive 12,000-plus word document. Bylaw 4, which deals with athlete eligibility, is 17 pages long.
“I could have known the bylaws like the back of my hand and I would have done things the same way,” Hawkins said. “There are so many gray areas. Even after knowing the bylaws, they are taking things that I thought were OK and putting them under another category.
“It’s like when the speed limit sign says 55 and you go 59 or you go 60 and you get pulled over. You can whine and complain and say, ‘Well, I thought you gave us five miles per hour.’ But if they give you a ticket, you cannot argue because it’s black and white. The speed limit is 55. If I did something wrong that was black and white I would put by big-boy pants on and take the punishment.”
The suspended player has enrolled at Galion.
“It’s unfortunate for the kid, who actually moved into the school system. The poor kid has to sit out one game,” Hawkins said. “The first time I saw the kid was about a day (after) he finally enrolled.”
Galion opens the season at Bucyrus on Aug. 28. Whether Hawkins is on the sidelines depends on the appeals process.
“I felt we were doing everything by the book. That is the frustrating thing,” Hawkins said. “It seems like a witch hunt.”