CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials discovered at least two dozen ineligible football players practicing on school teams this month.
The players were removed before the first game Friday, saving their teams from having to forfeit any victories should the ineligibility been discovered during the season.
CMS reported that Mallard Creek High discovered 13 to 15 ineligible players based on absences from the last school year, grades, and/or residency requirements. Mallard Creek opened its season at Independence.
East Mecklenburg High, which hosted West Charlotte, discovered 10 to 15 ineligible players.
Butler High, the defending state 4A champions, removed four players. The school faced Winston-Salem power Mount Tabor in its opener.
Districtwide numbers were not available Friday. The Observer requested data from selected schools after hearing reports this week of players being forced to leave their teams.
CMS officials say the players were identified via new district rules created after the athletic-eligibility scandals of the 2007-08 school year.
“The system is working,” said CMS communications director LaTarzja Henry. “This shows us that our coaches and athletics directors are more diligent before the seasons begin.”
Two years ago, an Observer investigation found widespread cheating on eligibility rules in high school athletics.
Subsequent CMS probes resulted in more than 20 student-athletes being declared ineligible, four coaches resigning or being removed, and five high schools forfeiting football seasons.
Superintendant Peter Gorman launched “Play Fair,” an anti-cheating program that enforces attendance zones and better self-reporting.
CMS athletics director Vicki Hamilton said athletic directors at district schools have from the first day of practice to the first game (Aug. 2-20) to determine if players are eligible. The ADs check, among other things, grades, attendance, and residency requirements.
About 20 documents are required for each athlete, and a widely publicized anti-cheating hot line also makes potential violators more fearful of getting caught.
Schools officials said the initiative has almost wiped out the practice of athletes lying about addresses to play for elite teams. Last year, only five athletes in all CMS sports were declared ineligible because of residency requirements.
“Before people said they didn’t know,” Henry said. “We started two years ago. We’re confident the message is out there and people understand the rules.”
Coach Mike Newsome said none of the four Butler players who were forced to leave the team were starters. Two will have to sit out for 365 days due to an athletic transfer rule.
The defending state champs already lost star quarterback, Christian LeMay, who was suspended after being accused of a sexual encounter with another student on campus.
Staff writer Langston Wertz contributed.