Barring a last-minute appeal, the high school basketball season is over for the girls' teams at Brainerd and Howard following a fight on the court immediately after Monday's game.
During their District 6-AA tournament consolation game at East Hamilton School, a player from each team began to argue. After the final buzzer sounded, the argument quickly escalated into a fight and players from both teams rushed in, leaving coaches, administrators and five security officers to break them up, according to East Hamilton athletic director Brad Jackson.
After receiving information from both schools, Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Executive Director Bernard Childress placed both programs on restrictive probation for the rest of this school year as well as next year.
For the duration of the penalty, neither team will be eligible for postseason play, eliminating them from this year's region tournament. Nor will they be allowed to play in next year's district or region tournaments, according to a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association official.
In addition, each school will be placed on state probation for two years and fined a total of $2,000 -- $1,000 for each team's restrictive probation and $500 per year for two years' state probation for both schools. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association waived the $1,000 fine for this year.
Although the game had ended when the fight began, and other players already were beginning to walk toward each other to shake hands, the fact that they turned back onto the court and joined the fight is the reason for such a severe penalty, officials said.
The two Brainerd players involved were suspended from school for the rest of the week by school administrators and head coach Carolyn Jackson added 10 hours of community service for those two as additional punishment.
"I don't condone any fights and in 38 years of coaching at Brainerd this is the first one I can remember my team being involved in," Jackson said.
"Tempers flared and now we're done this year and I hate that the whole team is being punished for something a couple of kids did," she said. "We'll appeal it, but basically all we can hope for is to be allowed to play in the postseason next year."
Howard girls' coach Ashley Wilburn deferred to athletic director Mark Smith for comment. Smith could not be reached for comment.
According to Brad Jackson, the two teams were told to leave the gym as soon as they finished dressing and were escorted by officers to their buses to avoid any further problems.
"Luckily we had plenty of security for the number of people we had in the gym that night," he said. "After the first fight, other groups of girls from the teams started fighting, and we had four Hamilton County sheriff's officers and a city officer on the floor to break them up."
Brainerd won Monday's game and was slated to play at Polk County tonight in a Region 3-AA quarterfinal game; Howard was scheduled to play at top-ranked McMinn Central in a region quarterfinal. Polk County and McMinn Central will receive forfeit wins and automatically move into the semifinals.
"Word started to leak out about a brawl they had, so I was worried about what was going to happen," McMinn Central coach Johnny Morgan said. "Once I heard what happened, I had a hunch we wouldn't be playing them."
Although Monday's incident didn't involve any players from East Hamilton High, this is the second fight in three weeks to happen inside the school's gym. During a regular-season game between East Hamilton and Hixson, a fight broke out in the stands involving fans from both teams.
Eight Hixson players left the court and bench area and rushed into the stands. Those players later were dismissed from the team, and Hixson was put on two-year probation and fined $1,250 this year and another $1,000 for the second year of probation. East Hamilton's program was not punished.