Signal Mountain High School administrators filed an intent to appeal with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, but the school had not received a response late Tuesday afternoon.
The TSSAA, the state's governing body for high school athletics, vacated the school's six football wins last Friday after ruling that the Eagles had allowed Tim McClendon, an ineligible player, to participate.
That ineligibility ruling is based on districts in which the student lived and that in which he played. The appeal is based on the contention that those districts are set by the Hamilton County Department of Education and the HCDE granted the player a hardship waiver to attend Signal Mountain.
Signal Mountain Principal Tom McCullough reiterated his belief that the school had followed the rules.
"Although we have the greatest respect for the TSSAA, after careful consideration of the issues involving the use of an ineligible football player by Signal Mountain High School, we are exercising our rights and have asked the TSSAA for an immediate hearing," McCullough said in a prepared statement. "We stand by the information we submitted regarding the student transfer and believe him to be eligible."
He said further that Signal's primary issue is the TSSAA definition of school territory, citing Section 13b of the TSSAA bylaws.
"It states that a student is ineligible unless 'the new residence is inside the territory of the new school.' However, the TSSAA defines territory as the 'geographic boundaries and bus routes of the area served by the school as established by the local board of education.' Due to a hardship request for this student approved by the [HCDE], the local board of education has established the territory for this student to include SMHS," McCullough said. "We are appealing their decision based on this premise.
"If the TSSAA maintains that board-approved hardships do not establish 'territory,' then there are numerous student athletes in Hamilton County and across Tennessee whose eligibility may be questionable."
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said he had not seen the school's notification of its intent to appeal. However, he did respond to the reported grounds the school planned to use for the appeal.
"The [TSSAA] bylaws are clear as to what defines a bona fide change of residence which justifies a change in schools," Childress said. "School systems allow students to go out of zone all the time. It does not carry with it the right to participate in athletics."
Hamilton County Schools Deputy Superintendent Lee McDade was still principal at Lookout Valley when Signal's request was approved by the HCDE in June. He has been kept apprised of Signal Mountain's decision-making process.
"They told us this morning they were going to appeal, and we're all for it although we understand the TSSAA's side," McDade said. "We do not get involved in TSSAA appeals because individual schools do that."
Asked about the circumstances under which hardships could be granted, specifically the player in question, McDade responded, "I cannot comment on that."
When contacted Tuesday night, Eagles coach Bill Price continued his "no comment" approach to the appeals process but said his energies beyond the classroom were being expended elsewhere -- the team's Thursday night home game against Chattanooga Christian.
"We're trying to get ready for a football game, and I have tried to concentrate on getting the team ready," he said. "I want to make sure our guys are focused."
If this appeal is denied, there remains the possibility that Signal could seek a reduction in the number of wins vacated on grounds regarding notification of the alleged infraction. Childress told Signal Mountain administrators that he learned of the issue on Sept. 22 at an administrators meeting at Tyner Academy. Signal Mountain officials weren't notified of a potential problem until Oct. 6 when TSSAA staff members showed up at the school; thus the player ruled ineligible on Oct. 7 participated in two games after the TSSAA was notified.
"The [TSSAA] constitution does not limit the number of times a school may appeal," Childress said. "However, there has been no disciplinary action taken against the SMHS program. They were simply required to follow the bylaws."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...