— VALDOSTA, Ga. - South Georgians take football as seriously as church and patriotism, and it comes as no surprise that high school football teams in a city dubbed "Titletown USA" might adopt a few professional tactics - even dirty ones.
The Lowndes County High School Vikings were accused of stealing opponents' signs until the Georgia High School Association ruled this week that the team and its coach, Randy McPherson, had done nothing wrong.
The allegation was leveled by Rush Propst, coach of the Colquitt County Packers, who lost to Lowndes, 17-14, in a home game on Sept. 28. Propst said the Vikings had an assist from a former Packers coach, Buzz Payne, who watched the Colquitt side with a pair of binoculars and told Lowndes coaches whether his former team would be passing or running.
The allegations smacked of Spygate, the NFL controversy in 2007 that involved the New England Patriots stealing signals from the New York Jets.
But the high school association decided none of its bylaws prevent coaches from talking to another. Absent that, the association reviewed the case to see if the Vikings violated its ethics policy.
"We finally decided there was nothing in there that would determine an ethics violation was made by Lowndes High School," said Dr. Ralph Swearngin, the association's executive director.
Propst, in an earlier interview, called McPherson a liar and the Vikings cheaters. But the coach was more circumspect after the high school association's ruling, telling the Moultrie Observer it's time for his Packers to move on.
“All I can control is our football team and the direction it needs to go," said Propst, the former coach of the Hoover, Ala., High School football team featured in the MTV television series, "Two-A-Days."
Lowndes superintendent Wes Taylor defended his coach and noted the "high standard" to which school employees are held.
Football fever is just getting started in this city, which ESPN has dubbed "Titletown USA." On Friday the undefeated Vikings will meet their crosstown rivals, the Valdosta High School Wildcats, in the game known locally as the Winnersville Classic.
Details for this story were reported by the Valdosta, Ga., Daily Times and the Moultrie, Ga., Observer.