The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's Board of Control was quick Friday to quash a hint by Signal Mountain High School that the organization should clarify the "territory" from which schools may draw student athletes.
The TSSAA on Friday upheld the Oct. 7 ruling that Eagles senior linebacker and running back Tim McClendon, who transferred from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, was ineligible because he does not live in Signal Mountain's school zone. The TSSAA investigation determined that Signal Mountain made a mistake in filing online for his eligibility, which is why he was allowed to play the first seven games.
Dr. Tom McCullough, the principal, said Friday he was disappointed in the ruling, which forced the football team to vacate six wins. He said the school's "main focus will continue to be on our students."
However, McCullough said, "The fact that the Board of Control deliberated at length tells me that we provided them with a lot of information to consider. ... I have to believe that the wording, definitions, and instructions on filling out transfer forms must be clarified."
Signal Mountain officials maintained during Thursday's hearing that the TSSAA's definition of a school's "territory," the zone from which student-athletes can be drawn, was too vague. They said that confusion led coach Bill Price to believe McClendon was in Signal Mountain's zone when Price filled out the online eligibility form.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said there is no plan to discuss or change the wording or definition of what the TSSAA considers to be a school's "territory."
"We have no intentions of changing the wording of the rule because there is no vagueness to it," Childress said. "We feel like it's a very specific rule and we couldn't disagree more with their view.
"Until Signal Mountain tried, we have never, in my 17 years, had a school argue that the definition of territory is too vague."
He said the organization can change its bylaws by vote of member schools.
"I don't remember a situation where we had a school that had been determined to have played an ineligible athlete to then come back and appeal what was already written in our bylaws."
Signal Mountain's appeal lasted nearly three hours Thursday.
Attorney Clancy Covert interviewed McClendon and McClendon's mother; Price; athletic director Patty Lane and Chip Baker, a Hamilton County school board member whose district includes Signal Mountain. He also questioned assistant coach Shane Roberson, who has been McClendon's mentor since middle school. McCullough also spoke on behalf of the school.
The board met behind closed doors and voted Friday to uphold the ruling. Multiple TSSAA sources confirmed the vote was 6-0.
Childress said the TSSAA and Signal Mountain will begin working together to determine whether to clear McClendon to play in the Eagles' final game of the season next week at District 7-AA foe Sequatchie County.
He said McClendon could be cleared to play, depending on his last day of participation in Georgia.
"We're talking about one game, that's all," he said. "But regardless, that won't affect the team having to vacate the six wins, which basically eliminates them from the playoffs as well."
Childress also confirmed that Signal Mountain must write a letter to each school that it competed against while using an ineligible player and pay a $100 fine per contest, or $700, because the violation was not self-reported. The school must also pay for the Board of Control's travel expenses, hotel stay and meals for Thursday's meeting in Murfreesboro.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...