The gradebook can be a coach’s greatest fear.
It can take perfectly healthy players away, it can ruin state championships.
The 1987 Rockdale County boys had to forfeit their Class AAA basketball state crown because of an ineligible player that checked in as a sub during the state tournament.
The Rockdale situation was the costliest because of grades, but a few weeks earlier, the gradebook had been powerful enough to send one school’s entire season to a halt.
Toombs Central was at the end of its days as a high school in 1987; just a few months later, it was consolidated with Lyons as Toombs County High.
Located on US 1 a few miles south of Lyons, it had an average daily attendance of 97 when the Georgia High School Association reclassified in 1986. The figure was 29 less than what it had six years earlier.
Toombs Central was so small, it was the third smallest non-specialized public school in Georgia in 1986, behind Union County’s Woody Gap and Echols County.
Not surprisingly, its sports rosters were also tiny.
The Yellow Jackets fielded football teams from 1976-86, but struggled tremendously, winning as many as five games just once and finished out on a 1-39 streak.
Toombs Central did better in basketball, finishing as state runners-up in girls Class C hoops in 1958 and making three other semifinals. The boys made appearances in 1960 and 1963, but never won a game in state.
Boys basketball was struggling even more in the final season of 1986-87.
The Jackets were 0-11 in February 1987. The roster consisted of seven players.
But if Toombs didn’t think their situation could get any worse, it did.
On February 6, The Atlanta Constitution’s Steve Figueroa reported, “Toombs Central High in Lyons has canceled the remainder of its boys varsity basketball schedule because four of the seven players fell short of the standards and were declared ineligible.”
The academic rule that claimed the Yellow Jackets’ season was a new one by the Georgia High School Association, Figueroa said.
Students had to be passing five of six courses with a 70 or higher to participate in extracurricular activities.
GHSA executive secretary Bill Fordham said it was a first, to his knowledge, that a season was cancelled for this reason.
Toombs wasn’t the only school affected by the new rule – Rockdale had lost five players at that point – but at the time, Toombs was hit the hardest.
Predictably, Yellow Jackets head coach Wilbur Mallory was not happy with his team.
“We talked and talked to our kids about their grades, but they didn’t listen,” Mallory told The Constitution. “They’re doing their work now, but it’s too late. Sometimes it takes a cold slap in the face to wake you up, and I hope that’s what has happened with our kids.”
Mallory was also upset for the girls team, which he also coached. Teams did not want to play just one game per night and so several had cancelled games.
“Our girls are really mad at the boys,” said Mallory. “The girls all made their grades and now they’re having to forfeit because the boys didn’t. It’s a breach of contract on our part, so those schools don’t have to play just our girls teams, but I think it’s pretty bad of those who don’t.”
The lack of players prevented Toombs Central’s boys from playing in the region tournament, meaning they didn’t even have a chance of playing for state.
Mallory, who had been head coach of the football squad in 1985, warned the players they were in trouble for eligibility for that sport come fall, but it turned out to be a moot point as Toombs Central closed at the end of the school year.
Sources: The Atlanta Constitution – Feb. 6, 1987; Georgia High School Football Historians Association; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws 1986-87; Note: Neither Toombs County paper, The Vidalia Advance or The Lyons Progress, covered the Toombs Central grades situation.