Baseball coaches at Walker Valley High School in Cleveland, Tenn., took swift action after they found nine students drinking beer and wine during the team's spring break trip to South Carolina.
Parents and authorities were immediately called. The team packed up and came home, forfeiting the remaining games it was scheduled to play in the tournament. The eight players and the student team manager caught drinking were suspended from school for two weeks. And the boys were told they couldn't play on the team for the remainder of the season.
Bradley County Schools Superintendent Linda Cash said the coaches and school leaders were prepared to handle the situation because of extra training they received after the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman, allegedly by three of his basketball teammates during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., in December.
"I'm very proud not only that this training paid off, but also of the integrity of our coaches who said, 'This is not the culture we want to accept or adhere to here,'" Cash said. "They followed every protocol that was in place."
After the incident at Ooltewah, Cash said, coaches in Bradley County were nervous about taking their teams on out-of-town trips and asked for help knowing exactly what procedures to follow.
Cash said the Bradley County Sheriff's Office helped train principals, athletic directors and coaches about what to do when students misbehave, which involves immediate reporting to authorities and parents, and taking the team home and not continuing to play.
Six of the eight Walker Valley High School boys removed from the team after the incident in late March were starting players, but Cash said winning baseball games is not as important as teaching character.
Walker Valley High School Principal Nat Akiona agreed, saying he applauds the coaches for recommending that the boys be removed from the team, knowing the implications that would have on the remainder of the team's season.
"It may hurt our program for a season," Akiona said. "But it is building a better future team."
Akiona said he hopes the boys who were caught return to the baseball team next year having learned from the experience.
The team's head coach Joe Shamblin said what happened is an unfortunate situation, but good kids sometimes make mistakes.
"Hopefully they will take this experience and turn it into a positive learning experience as they grow into adults," he said.
Akiona said coaches at Walker Valley High School have asked him if they can require athletes to sign an honor contract. He said the school is still considering that option, but he appreciates how concerned the coaches at the school are about the character of their athletes.
"If you are trying out for a team here there is an expectation," Akiona said. "We want our students to understand that."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.