East Hamilton High School and one of its boys' basketball players have been cleared of any wrongdoing following an incident in the stands two weeks ago.
During the fourth quarter of a home game against Hixson, an altercation involving fans from both teams broke out in the stands. Although there were no arrests and no punches thrown, eight Hixson players were ejected from the game for running into the stands.
They later were dismissed from the team by Hixson administrators. Hixson was put on two years probation and fined $1,250 for the players leaving the bench area.
An East Hamilton player was already seated in the stands, behind the bench area, receiving treatment for an injury. When the altercation broke out, that player turned to stand up and watch what was happening but did not approach the scene. That player was ejected and suspended for two additional games initially by East Hamilton administrators, but TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress increased the punishment late last week to include a $1,000 fine for the school and two years probation, as well as suspending the player for the rest of the season.
But late Monday evening, after returning from an out-of-town meeting, Childress read an appeal from East Hamilton athletic director Brad Jackson that included sworn statements from the attending trainer and officials that the Hurricanes player did not step toward the altercation.
Childress immediately reversed his ruling and told Jackson the matter was closed and there would be no further punishment.
"It's a big relief from all standpoints," Jackson said. "I'm very happy we were able to provide him with all the accurate information. It was tough for him to make a decision without all the facts, but we felt once he knew the details we would at least get a hearing to plead our case. Instead, we won't even need to do that now."
Hixson athletic director Brian Bray said his program will not appeal its penalty.
While Jackson awaited word from the TSSAA, the East Hamilton player, who is not a starter, missed an additional two games.
"The first information we had was that there was one East Hamilton kid going into the stands, so we handed down our initial ruling and penalty," Childress said. "But after checking with everyone involved, we have a letter from the officials and the trainer, and all state that the kid was on the second row of the bleachers receiving treatment and did not go any higher.
"In fact, according to the eyewitness accounts, the kid actually moved down, back onto the court to rejoin his team. Had he even taken one step up to the third row, we would have treated it as if he approached the altercation and punished him and East Hamilton.
"We never want to punish a kid who is innocent, and to be honest he probably shouldn't have sat out the last two games. But Brad did the right thing in keeping him out and waiting until we had all the information."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...