There will be no more dark clouds hanging over the Marion County High football program.
After meeting with school administrators this week, the TSSAA has accepted a two-step, self-imposed sanction by the school for violating the state's practice rule. According to Executive Director Bernard Childress, the state's prep sports governing body now considers the case closed.
Officials with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association accepted the recommendation by school administrators to cancel Marion County High's allotted 10 days of spring practice in 2014 and extend the summer dead period, in which players and coaches are not allowed to work out or practice on school grounds, by two weeks. The dead period for all schools runs from June 22 through July 5, but Marion will begin its no-contact period June 15 and continue through July 12.
Those penalties are for having improperly allowed former South Pittsburg player Raquis Hale to practice with the team for four days in the week leading up to Marion's Nov. 1 game against South Pittsburg.
According to Childress, no additional punishment will be imposed over two football assistants who allegedly took playbooks from opponents' locker rooms, because one coach was fired and the other was suspended and will likely not return to teach or coach at the school.
"The allegations about breaking into opponents' locker rooms and stealing playbooks is in the hands of law enforcement now and is beyond our jurisdiction," Childress said. "During our meeting with the administrators, and in all conversations with them throughout this process, they have been very cooperative. They were very disappointed and apologetic that those things happened.
"We consider the matter over once they follow through with their recommended sanctions."
Childress informed the school of his decision by letter, which was received Wednesday afternoon. Childress concluded the letter by saying, "Because of the steps taken by the school, we find no need to take any further disciplinary action. The case is being closed accordingly."
According to Article II, Section 14 of the TSSAA Bylaws on practice rules, "Only students who are enrolled and in regular attendance at a school may participate in practice."
Essentially, the school will be punished one week for every day that Hale practiced with the Marion football team, which is the standard penalty issued by the TSSAA for similar cases in the past.
It is the second time in two years under former head coach Mac McCurry that Marion has had to forfeit its entire spring practice. Just three months after McCurry was hired in December 2011, the Warriors were sanctioned by the TSSAA for going over its allowed number of days to practice during the offseason.
McCurry resigned as the Warriors coach Nov. 20, after allegations arose that he had offered to pay Hale $50 per day to practice with the team, and had encouraged assistants to vandalize the team's fieldhouse in order to fire up the players before their game against cross-county rival South Pittsburg.
"It's unfortunate we had to self impose this penalty on the team and the kids," Marion County School Superintendent Mark Griffith said. "Not having spring practice and extending the dead period isn't the best situation, but it's something we can live with. We didn't want to lose any practice time from August for the safety of students getting ready for the season.
"The players themselves were not involved, so we felt like if we had some self-imposed sanctions, it would be a win for us in an unfortunate situation."
Griffith added that he was grateful to the TSSAA for its quick decision, which will now allow Marion County administrators to conduct their search for a new head coach without lingering questions about possible sanctions.
"After the termination of the head coach, we began the search process for a new coach and we already have 47 applicants as of today," Griffith said. "This decision allows whoever the next coach is to know ahead of time what the punishment is and that there won't be any future sanctions."
Griffith said the plan is to have a new coach in place no later than Feb. 1, but that he expects a hire to be made much sooner than that.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.