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South Pittsburg High School has been notified by the TSSAA that its football program is being placed on probation for two years due to an improper benefit given to a player's family.

Bernard Childress, executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, said that after an investigation by the state's high school sports governing body, it was determined that a member of the South Pittsburg Quarterback Club used funds to help make the December rent payment for a student-athlete's family.

"No one from our school administration, coaching staff or school personnel were aware of this until after we had been contacted by the TSSAA," said Tim Bible, South Pittsburg's principal. "It was a situation where the family was in a tough financial situation at Christmas, so without any of our coaches or administrators or even the family themselves knowing, someone from the quarterback club stepped in and helped so they would not be evicted around the holidays.

"It was a one-time thing, and we've given proof that the family made their own rent payments before and since that month. I think there were good intentions for trying to help out a family in need, but the issue was the quarterback club should have communicated with someone at the school so we could tell them that was not allowed by the TSSAA. That was completely wrong, and we immediately reported back what we had found to the TSSAA and began the process of working with them."

The student-athlete, an underclassman, has been ruled ineligible to compete in athletics at South Pittsburg for one calendar year.

Additionally, the TSSAA accepted the self-imposed punishment recommended by the school, which includes dissolving the quarterback club for one year, eliminating spring scrimmages and all 7-on-7 competitions, reducing the number of spring practices from 12 within a 15-day period to five within a 10-day period, as well as cutting fall scrimmages from four to two for the 2021 season.

For the 2022 season, the punishment will include not scrimmaging during spring practice and reducing the number of fall scrimmages from four to three.

The probationary period does not affect the team's ability to qualify for the playoffs for either the 2021 or 2022 seasons. The TSSAA also waived the financial penalty that is typically included in similar rulings because of the school's willingness to cooperate with the investigation.

"We were actually notified of three accusations made by another school that we investigated thoroughly," Childress said. "We were able to debunk two of those quickly, but this one was something that, after looking into it themselves, South Pittsburg's administration reported back to us that the violation had in fact occurred.

"We waived the fine because the school took the appropriate action that needed to be taken. As we discussed with the school's administrators, the issue was that any action taken by a quarterback club should be approved by the school because we don't consider those to be an outside entity. Booster clubs are a part of the school, and we have been assured by the South Pittsburg administration that their club will be closely monitored moving forward."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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