The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association has notified Signal Mountain High School that its football program is guilty of playing an ineligible player and must vacate all six wins this season.
According to Executive Director Bernard Childress, two TSSAA assistant directors spent several hours at the school conducting interviews Thursday. The TSSAA staff met early Friday morning and Childress faxed the official letter of notice Friday afternoon.
The ineligible player is 6-foot-2, 240-pound running back and linebacker Tim McClendon, who transferred form Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe during the summer and started for Signal Mountain in all seven games this season.
He will not be allowed to play in any more football games for the Eagles.
“Whoever at Signal Mountain filled out the online transfer form made a mistake,” Childress said. “All of our eligibility forms are submitted by the administration of our schools. In this case whoever filled it out clicked ‘yes’ that the student-athlete’s new residence is inside Signal Mountain’s zone. It’s not. Once we checked to see exactly where his house is, we realized he’s in Brainerd’s zone, not Signal Mountain’s, and declared him ineligible immediately.
“He had originally been ruled eligible, but the original information we had received was incorrect, so we had to come back and change the status.”
Childress added that McClendon’s athletic eligibility status had nothing to do with the No Child Left Behind law.
A vacated win is treated from the penalized school’s standpoint as though the game were not played. Opponents still count the losses on their records.
“We really haven’t had a chance to meet with anyone else yet, but I really don’t think there’s an appeal, to be honest,” Signal Mountain Principal Tom McCullough said late Friday afternoon. “There has been talk in our community to look at legal action, but the TSSAA has a pretty good legal history so I’m not sure that’s an option.
“We sent in all the information and were told the student-athlete was clear to play, so it will take a while to process all this that’s just happened.”
Before Friday’s ruling, Signal Mountain was 6-1 overall, 3-0 in District 7-AA and ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 4A. The Eagles became officially 0-1 going into Friday night’s game at Polk County.
Last season, the Eagles won the Class 2A state championship.
They have just two regular-season games remaining, against district foes Chattanooga Christian and Sequatchie County.
Under the TSSAA’s playoff criteria, even if the Eagles win, they would not qualify for the postseason because only the top two teams from each district earn automatic playoff berths. All other teams must qualify based on overall record.
Bledsoe County and Sequatchie County each has two district wins and more overall victories already than Signal Mountain and will claim the two automatic spots. The Eagles won’t have enough victories to claim a wild card.
Because the school did not turn itself in for the violation, there will be a $700 fine, $100 per game, for playing an ineligible player.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has 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. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...