For the second time in four years, the Marion County High School football program has been placed on probation by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association after an investigation. The TSSAA released a statement Friday afternoon outlining recruiting violations against Warriors head coach Joey Mathis and assistant Tim Starkey.
According to executive director Bernard Childress, the TSSAA has accepted Marion County's self-imposed punishment of having Mathis and Starkey each serve a one-week suspension. Mathis will serve his suspension beginning Sunday and continuing through next Friday's home game against Region 3-2A opponent Brainerd. Starkey will serve his suspension the week of Sept. 18-24, including the district game against Boyd-Buchanan on Sept. 23.
Assistant coach Randy Kirkpatrick will serve as interim head coach during Mathis' suspension, according to Marion County schools superintendent Mark Griffith.
Griffith could not confirm if the incident had been reported by Grundy County, as had been initially reported.
"We received a phone call last Tuesday from the TSSAA inquiring if this had happened, and it was confirmed that it had," Griffith said. "From there we worked with the TSSAA to resolve the matter."
The Marion County football program had just served one TSSAA probation period in 2013 and 2014 and now will serve another from Sept. 7, 2016, through Sept. 7, 2018.
"We have worked together as a team to resolve this situation," Marion County principal Sherry Prince said. "Our goal is to protect the integrity of Marion County football. Joey Mathis will remain our coach with my support.
"When mistakes are made we deal with them, learn from them and move on."
In addition, the school's football program has been fined $1,000. During the probation, the team may participate in the playoffs, but Childress said any other violations involving the football program will result in more severe disciplinary action.
The TSSAA also cut in half the number of allowed scrimmages next season for the Warriors and cut in half the number of days they are allowed to practice next spring. They also are not allowed to scrimmage next spring and have been banned from practicing for one week next summer, as well as from competing in 7-on-7 competitions.
"We were informed that a student-athlete currently enrolled at Grundy County, and his mother, met with two of the football coaches at the Marion County fieldhouse last Saturday to discuss the school's football program," said Childress, who confirmed the coaches' identities.
According to the release, Marion coaches violated Article II, Section 17 of the TSSAA's bylaws regarding recruiting violations. That section of the bylaws defines recruiting as "the use of influence on a student or the parents or guardians of a student by any person directly or indirectly associated with the school, to secure or retain a student for athletic purposes."
The student-athlete in question is also ineligible to participate in any athletic events at Marion County for one calendar year.
Mathis said he misinterpreted the TSSAA rule about meeting with a player but said he had not contacted the player personally.
"The administration at Marion County High School was asked to deal with the situation and report any disciplinary action taken to the state office in writing," Childress said. "We have accepted the action taken by the administration to suspend each coach from coaching one (league) game, including any football activities (including practice) occurring the week of the game."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.
Updated Sept. 10 at 12:55 a.m. with additional information.