published Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Signal Mountain principal regrets use of 'cover-up'


by Kelli Gauthier

Signal Mountain Middle-High School Principal Tom McCullough backtracked Tuesday, saying he regretted using the term "cover-up" when discussing the recent underage drinking incident that involved some of the school's football players, including the state championship team's quarterback.

"I wish I had chosen my words more carefully," McCullough told a school assembly Tuesday. "Do I really believe it was a cover-up? I have a copy of the [incident] report, and it doesn't mention anything about Signal Mountain High School.

"I owe apologies to our [school resource officer], to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department and to Coach [Bill] Price. ... Coach Price, I do trust your judgment."

In addition to four juveniles, quarterback Robert Hogan Whitmire, 18, and recent Signal Mountain graduate Robert Lucas Locke, 19, were cited as adults for underage drinking.

Whitmire is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County General Sessions Court on Jan. 3, while Locke is set to appear Jan. 5.

The incident occurred Nov. 26 when a Hamilton County sheriff's deputy responded to a noise complaint at 6332 Forest Park Drive.

When the deputy arrived, he found a bonfire burning and several juveniles at the scene of what appeared to be a large party with open containers of alcohol, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson.

McCullough, who said he learned Monday about the six former or current Signal Mountain students who were involved in the incident, apologized Tuesday during a previously scheduled assembly to welcome back to school David Anderson, a sophomore who's been recovering from a spinal cord injury since August.

At the assembly, McCullough also spoke briefly about Zach Taylor, a Signal Mountain student who died this summer after an alcohol-induced car wreck.

"As teachers, we talk about teachable moments. ... We need to talk about the choices we make in life," McCullough said.

Whether they realize it or not, student athletes are held to a higher standard of behavior, McCullough said, adding that football coach Bill Price had disciplined the players involved but refusing to say what their punishment was. Team rules prohibit players from drinking alcohol but don't specify the penalty.

"There are consequences, and we will move on," the principal said.

Although Price kicked a player off the team several weeks ago and also benched another player for half of the Class 2A championship game that Signal Mountain won Saturday, all the football players involved in the Nov. 26 incident played in the championship game against Trinity Christian Academy.

Price later spoke at Tuesday's assembly and told the high-schoolers he only knew about one student who was involved -- one of his players, whom he declined to name, who called the coach after the incident to tell him what happened.

The student told the coach he had not been drinking, but still was cited.

"The young man did call and tell me ... that he made a mistake," said Price, who told a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter on Monday that he had no knowledge of the incident. "The other kids involved, we didn't communicate until after Dr. McCullough and I talked. And I handled it the same way."

Staff writer Jeremy Belk contributed to this story.

about Kelli Gauthier...

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, ...

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jpo3136 said...

Please check the headline. We are barely smart enough to read, much less understand the influence of those quotes. Thanks.

December 8, 2010 at 5:43 a.m.
Speedlimit55 said...

Thank you for following up on yesterday's report. Once the facts come to light, the story changes. To all of those slinging mud yesterday, I hope you like the taste today. Now we can all focus our attention on something positive.

December 8, 2010 at 6:07 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

Let's see a $559,000 brow lot in signal Mtn. And the parents did not know what was going on?

We will find out if the parents get charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors, as would happen to you down in the hustings (and as happened a couple years ago).

By the way, if the boys played in the game, and the school won, it ought to be a forfeit. At the private schools I believe if the headmaster had the guts the kids would be suspended;

now they will get a different lesson that it is ok and teach their children well to do the same things.

December 8, 2010 at 7:21 a.m.
rolando said...

I love the hypocrisy in this quote from the article; "...quarterback Robert Hogan Whitmire, 18, and recent Signal Mountain graduate Robert Lucas Locke, 19, were cited as adults for underage drinking."

Underage adults; yeah, somehow -- in a twisted sort of way -- that seems to make sense in today's nanny-state. They are adults, yet they aren't. They can vote and die for us yet they cannot have a celebratory beer.

December 8, 2010 at 7:37 a.m.
Humphrey said...

I agree with Rolando

December 8, 2010 at 8:03 a.m.
grandmastaj said...

"By the way, if the boys played in the game, and the school won, it ought to be a forfeit. At the private schools I believe if the headmaster had the guts the kids would be suspended"

How asinine is this statement? The TSSAA, the governing body over Tennessee high school athletics, has no jurisdiction over incidents that do not happen during a game. This isn't the NCAA we are talking about. So tell me, which school do you support that got smoked by Signal Mountain?

December 8, 2010 at 8:09 a.m.
paperclip said...

Thank you very much Grandmastaj i completely agree. Also There are players at private school that were charged with similar charges at the beginning of the year. They were not suspended. Also Parents go out of town how could know what was going on at the house that they weren't at.

December 8, 2010 at 8:46 a.m.
orangenblack said...

What these boys did was wrong, will never dispute that. But while we are looking at SM's program, why don't we look elsewhere also. I bet if you look into other programs around the city, you may find other "things" that were not even reported. It is hard for me to believe that nothing has ever gone on in ANY other programs around Chattanooga. SM is under a microscope because of a great season. I say find a school private or not that has no problems and I will send my kids there. Again I am not in anyway saying that what has happened is OK, just don't throw rocks while standing in a glass house.

December 8, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
Allison12 said...

The new HCDE programs that are proving to be highly successful are met with flat out lies about the income levels of the students. HCDE has great programs like the magnet schools, or several new schools. Instead of praise, they get attacked. All high schools have drug and alcohol problems, just as society does. Show me one high school since the 50's that has not.

December 8, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.
Ferrell said...

I am surprised that Mr. McCullough supposedly found out about this Nov. 26th incident involving at least 6 of his current students (and at least one or more being a star football player) the Monday (Dec. 6th, by the way) after the State Championship game.

In a small, tight knit community like Signal Mountain, I would think most people on the mountain would know about this incident by say, midday, Nov. 27th. Are we really supposed to believe that Mr. McCullough only heard about the citations and drinking incident on Monday morning, Dec. 6th (coincidentally, immediately following the State Championship game)? What principal is going to find out about this kind of alarming news and go hurry up and schedule an all school assembly and do interviews with the media before he even talks to Coach Price and others involved so he gets a handle on exactly what went down? Mr. McCullough is an experienced administrator and he seems like the kind of guy that would want to be prepared and know all of the facts before he addresses the entire student body and faculty about a serious issue or conducts interviews with the media.

In the end, I agree with Mr. McCullough, that this incident smells of a "cover-up." The problem for him, in my opinion, is that it seems hard to believe he is not right in the middle of it. I could be wrong, but I think this is a classic case of "the tail is wagging the dog."

December 8, 2010 at 9:47 a.m.
redandblack said...

Should the students have been consuming alcohol? No. Should they be disciplined and face the consequences? Yes. But, the actions and misjudgment of a few should not be blamed on the entire football team and Signal Mountain. Let the rest of the football team who played their hearts out enjoy their CHAMPIONSHIP and accomplishments. Good job EAGLES.

December 8, 2010 at 10:09 a.m.
MissHarleyQuinn said...

Dr. McCullough may be an experienced administrator, but that doesn't mean he is a moral or decent administrator. He has chosen to toss value aside for a state championship trophy. It is far more important for him to pad his resume than do what is right. I've been disappointed in him since the first day my children entered his school and have regretted that we live in this school district since our arrival.

December 8, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.
CP7768 said...

MissHarleyQuinn, Why should you be disappointed in him? He runs one of the best, if not the best, high school in Hamilton County, a place typically known for it's poor educational standards. How is he able to control the behavior of students outside of school? If you have a solution to that problem, I would love to hear it. The man said something that he now regrets, I'm sure you've never had a moment like that. If you don't like his school or that way he runs it, you are more than welcome to pull your children out and send them to one of the numerous private schools available in the area.

December 8, 2010 at 3:17 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

Apparently this area does not much going on if everyone gets excited about some teens drinking. Yes, its wrong. Percentage of people who have drank alcohol in high school, probably close to 100% statistically, yes even the bible thumpers. They were caught, they cited. Who cares about this anymore???? For those who do, get a life. Focus on something constructive!

December 8, 2010 at 3:54 p.m.
dw0716 said...

Is this story even newsworthy? It appears this is a personal matter between the students and their parents. Since this did not happen on school property, the school should not be involved. Just another opportunity for SM bashing.

December 8, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.
rosebud said...

The articles have blown the story way out of proportion, in keeping with the TFP's current philosophy. The Clay Bennett cartoon is an embarrassment. Every TFP advertiser who supports Signal Mtn. High should pull their ads immediately to send a message that the cartoonist clown has to go. Free speech is one thing; indicting an entire school/football team for the crimes of a few is another.

December 9, 2010 at 12:07 a.m.
MissHarleyQuinn said...

CP7768, I completely agree that kids will be kids, highschool students are going to experiment with drinking and some will get caught. These are all aspects of growing up and learning to be responsible adults. Dr. McCullough isn't responsible for their poor choices, but he is responsible for what is considered appropriate reactions to illegal activity by the school's administration. He is absolutley correct that those on sport's teams are held to a higher standard of behavior, because playing on any team is a privelege, not a right. By virtue of their skill, good grades and appropriate behavior on and off the field these athletes get to be a part of something not everyone else can or will be. I find it hard to believe that being arrested would not get someone thrown off of any other sports or academic team, except at Signal Mountain and when you're the quarterback and a state championship game is less than 2 weeks away. What the coach and the principle taught in their "teaching " moment was that winning is all that matters at Signal Mountain. The standards, the values, and the rules go right out the window if you can bring the school some glory. And in such a light, there is no way that this could be considered the best school in Hamilton County, because the best education is not just what is taught from books. Dr. McCullough has set the standard for behavior and comportment not just for the football players who were arrested but the entire student body, and the bar he has set is terribly low.

December 9, 2010 at 6:58 a.m.
orangenblack said...

First of Miss Quinn, They were not arrested, they were cited to court, Big difference. I feel this is a matter between the kids and their parents (and I am sure they will handle this at home, I would). It did not happen on or even near any school property. (looked it up on the map) I commend the kid that came clean and admitted up to it. I am sure this happens at ALL schools. I don't know why SM is under the microscope all the time, but it seems that they keep the heat off the rest of us. Why doesn't anyone mention about all the other athletes in the hamilton county school system that have real convictions still playing sports. I am glad we don't fall in the hamilton county school system. A team and school does well and its a witch hunt. As and outsider looking in, if I were moving to hamilton county. I would move to that mountain where things seem to be going great. (minus one little incident) I would say that those kids learned alot more from the coach and his staff through hard work than any of us can imagine. (They made history, they played and won a state championship in their 2nd year, that takes hard work) Not to mention it bet the GPA up there is not too shabby either. Stop hating on SM. Find a school that is failing and double your hate energy there. Maybe your attention to that school may help a kid learn something.

December 9, 2010 at 7:37 a.m.
orangenblack said...

I directed the above to the wrong person, Sorry Miss Quinn. I was directing the above to CP7768.

December 9, 2010 at 8:12 a.m.
MissHarleyQuinn said...

Dear orangeblack, You are absolutely correct with your statement," Why doesn't anyone mention about all the other athletes in the hamilton county school system that have real convictions still playing sports. " Why are these athletes allowed to play on team when they've broken the law and or rules? What sort of example is this setting for the rest of the student body in these other schools? And what sort of example has been set at Signal Mountain? Is this promoting an attitude where certain people are above the laws and rules that others must follow? And who decides who can or can't get away with it?
I apologize for not realizing the nuances between cited and arrested. My mistake doesn't change the fact that the law was broken. I also commend the football player for coming forward, but we both know that confession may be good for the soul it doesn't change the act that was committed. It shows the boy has good character and is slowly learning good judgement. I also agree that because this didn't happen on school property or at a sanctioned school function that there should be no punishment such as expulsion, detention, or any other the school has within it's power. What I do feel is that this player is priveleged to play on the team, as all athletes are. It is a privelege he earned through physical prowess, strength, and intelligence. It is also a privelege he forfeits when he (or any athlete in the school system) chooses to break the law. I'm not saying the child should be thrown to the wolves, I merely believe there should have been a consequence that spoke not only to him but the entire student body. That priveleges will be revoked if laws are broken.
This is not hate for Signal Mountain, but disappointment. There was chance for the administration to at the very least make a public show of condemning under age drinking, the principle and the coach took the easy way out and just pretneded nothing happened until the game was won and over. This sets a precedence at Signal Mountain and the sprots program there, 'Do what ever you want, just make it to the game on time...and even then I'm sure we'll cut you some slack."

December 9, 2010 at 8:32 a.m.
redandblack said...

I believe Dr. McCullough and Coach Price when they say they were not aware of this incident prior to the Championship game. If they had been, I'm sure action would have taken place against those involved at that time. Rules are made and when they are broken, the student does suffer the consequence. Just ask those that it has happened to. I'm sure the appropriate action has been taken toward the students involved in this incident, but it seems that anything short of a "public hanging" is inadequate to some. Perhaps it is just jealousy of Signal Mountain"s achievments and success. Let's hope so and put this to bed.

December 9, 2010 at 8:58 a.m.
dogless said...

If we could get this much attention to the deficiencies of the public school system across TN then we may actually accomplish getting out of the cellar as far as public education is concerned in TN.

As for the drinking, I don't think anyone is condoning underage drinking, but the fact that media outlets view this as news and that the only time these "incidents" make it to press are when it involves private schools and now Signal Mountain. Should we now have a "Just Busted" publication that addresses high school incidents, or one that just focuses on the privates and Signal Mountain. I think there would be quite a few students, parents, and administrators all over the county that would not welcome the TFP/WRCB over stepping their journalistic boundaries as this type of reporting looks more like TMZ.

December 9, 2010 at 10:12 a.m.
Ferrell said...

Red and Black: The players of Signal Mountain should be commended and should be able to enjoy their fruits of their labor. Kudos to all of them.

This, however, doesn't mean that the Signal Mountain principal can't be called out for turning a blind eye to this unfortunate incident. You too, seem to want to have the "rose" or should I say "red colored" glasses on to state your belief that Coach Price and Dr. McCullough didn't know about this incident prior to the State Championship game.

Coach Price admitted at least one player called him immediately after the incident. This was over a week before the championship game. Don't you think Coach Price questioned him as to which other players were there? Don't you think this might be why Dr. McCullough was initially so mad and called this a cover up?

I think, in the end, Coach Price and Dr. McCullough protected these boys from any true discipline as it might have hampered their ability to bring home the big prize. But let's say it is true that they didn't find out about everything until after the game, like Dr. McCullough claimed (on Monday). Hogan Whitmire scored 16 points that next night in a basketball game. Wow, another teachable moment for the Signal Mountain administration and another lesson learned by their students and especially, their student-athletes. Those were some tough consequences (they must have handed out a couple of demerits to those involved) weren't they.

So don't pick on MissHarleyQuinn for "calling a spade a spade." Yes, I believe, like her, that Signal Mtn. H.S. had to sacrifice their integrity to ensure this championship. And I know it hurts that in what should be "the moment of glory" SMHS is the laughingstock of Chattanooga.

December 10, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.
redandblack said...

Isn't it GREAT that we live in the USA where everyone can express their opinion. Thanks Ferrell . Go Eagles!!!!

December 10, 2010 at 5:06 p.m.
TCA_Parent said...

Here's my take from the other side of the field: TCA has a 24/7/365 conduct policy that both students and parents agree to when signing our annual tuition contract. If one of our kids (not just players) gets caught drinking, they get disciplined. The more visible they are, the tougher the discipline. Had these been our players, they would have all been tossed off the team, and probably out of the school, championship game or not. Most private schools have this policy, but not all enforce it.

If Signal has a " no drinking" rule, it should have been enforced. If it was covered up till after the championship was in the bag, those responsible for the cover-up should be fired. Leave the players alone.

What I saw in Cookeville that day was a team from Signal playing their hearts out to win the game. In my opinion, forfeiture would serve no purpose other than to punish the majority of players who followed the rules. Had those players been suspended and had TCA won the game, it would have been a hollow victory. Our kids didn't want to play Signal's second string. They wanted to compete with the best.

December 13, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.
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