Six former or current Signal Mountain High School students — some of whom play for the school's newly minted state champion football team — recently were cited for underage drinking, Principal Tom McCullough confirmed Monday.
McCullough, who only found out about the incident Monday, said he would be upset if there were no consequence for the athletes, but he had not sat down to discuss the matter with football coach Bill Price.
"It smacks of cover-up all the way around. It looks like nothing was done, and that's not right," McCullough said. "Probably, had we known about it in advance, it may have cost them some time in their last football game."
One of the football team rules on Signal Mountain's website reads: "No athlete shall use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs of any kind at any time during season. ... Any violation of the above mentioned rules WILL result in some disciplinary action."
The football players involved with the alcohol incident played in the game in which Signal Mountain won the state Class 2A championship by defeating Trinity Christian Academy, McCullough said. He declined to say how many athletes were involved.
"There was an infraction to those rules and there's got to be a consequence," he said.
When asked about a group of students cited for underage drinking, Price first said he didn't know anything about the incident.
"I'm not sure what you're talking about. I have no idea," he said.
He later said that one of his players had called to tell him about the citations, but that the student told the coach he hadn't actually had any alcohol.
McCullough said Signal Mountain's school resource officer gave him a list on Monday of eight students involved in the incident and one nonstudent. But the incident report he received from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office included only six names: five current students and one recent graduate, he said.
One current student and the graduate are older than 18, McCullough said, and the four others are juveniles.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said the four juveniles were given citations to Juvenile Court and the two older than 18 were given citations to Hamilton County General Sessions Court.
All six were cooperative, he said, which is why they were cited to court and not arrested.
The report said "they'd gone up to a piece of property that belonged to one of the parents and they made a bonfire and were drinking beer," McCullough said.
McCullough said he plans to address the issue at a previously scheduled school assembly this morning.
"The burden put on me is: Are we allowing athletes to have an advantage that other students don't have? Are we encouraging a climate or an environment here where certain kinds of students get away with things that other kinds of students don't?" McCullough said.
The fact that he is just now finding out about the situation puts him in a difficult situation, he said. Because the students weren't at a school-sponsored activity or on school property, there is little he can do.
He said he's unsure whether he will step in and punish the football players for breaking team rules because that is the job of the football coach, and he doesn't want to "micromanage."
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...