Is the sky still the limit for Tim McClendon, the bruising high school football player who scored 15 touchdowns on 51 carries in just seven games?
The Signal Mountain High School senior hopes so, but after being ruled ineligible Oct. 7 by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association — a decision that cost the school six wins — it’s impossible to know.
What is certain, though, is McClendon’s view of transferring to Signal.
“Signal Mountain [High School] is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said Thursday afternoon, just hours before he was introduced with the rest of his classmates on senior night before the final regular-season home football game. “For the first time, I look forward to getting ready and going to school and seeing what my family at school is doing.”
McClendon has attended five high schools in four years, going to Hixson, Brainerd, Howard and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe before coming to Signal Mountain for his senior year. He said it has been a difficult path — he said he was attacked at two of the schools and was threatened with a knife at least twice — that was often filled with the pressures of fitting in and the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd.
He said he transferred and applied for a hardship waiver among the Hamilton County schools early in his high school career.
“There were people I was hanging out with that I didn’t need to be around,” he said. “They knew they weren’t going anywhere and wanted to drag others down with them.”
His move to LFO originally was denied because he was not a Catoosa County, Ga., resident, so McClendon moved and stayed with Reggie Page, who McClendon said was his guardian at the time.
It was at LFO — where McClendon topped the 100-yard mark in the first half of the season opener in 2010 before suffering a season-ending injury in the third quarter of that game — that McClendon reunited with Shane Roberson, a friend and mentor.
“I met Shane when I was in the eighth grade at Orchard Knob,” McClendon said. “Some lady was showing him around. I asked him if he was coming there and he said that he probably was to teach math.”
They renewed their friendship at LFO, where Roberson was a counselor for special-needs students.
“I look at him like the dad I never had,” McClendon said. “He taught me a lot of things — how to talk to people, how to dress, how to carry myself. With or without football, he’s a big part of my life.”
After becoming a teacher at Signal Mountain, Roberson said he was contacted by McClendon and his mother about transferring, especially when questions about graduation arose.
“He and his mom both began texting me asking for my help because they wanted to get him in school at Signal because of the educational environment and [the fact] that I would be there to make sure he got done what he needed to academically,” Roberson said. “I went to the Hamilton County [school board] offices and spoke to them about him, gave them his history and the reasons he wanted to transfer.”
McClendon’s hardship application was approved by the Hamilton County Board of Education in June, according to Signal Mountain and HCBE officials. That is a separate issue from athletic eligibility, however.
After several complaints from other schools, according to executive director Bernard Childress, the TSSAA investigated McClendon’s transfer to Signal and ruled him ineligible because of a paperwork error pertaining to where he lives.
“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.”
Signal Mountain has appealed the TSSAA ruling, and the case will be heard Thursday in Murfreesboro.
“Although we have the greatest respect for the TSSAA, after careful consideration of the issues involving the use of an ineligible football player, we are exercising our rights and have asked the TSSAA for an immediate hearing,” Signal Mountain Principal Tom McCullough said. “We stand by the information we submitted regarding the student transfer and believe him to be eligible.”
All of the Eagles football program is hoping for the best, especially McClendon, who said the original shock of the news was devastating.
“I cried the day I found out. I’ve cried a lot of days since,” he said. “It was because I was ineligible, but it was also because I had cost my teammates six games. Coach [Bill] Price told me it wasn’t my fault and that it was a misunderstanding in paperwork. I told him I was sorry. He hugged me and told me to hold my head up high.
“But that first day I heard I felt life was done. I really felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but then I thought about coming here to get the academics. Being on the football field was great, but football was a secondary issue.”
So even if the appeal is denied and his high school football days are done, is the sky still the limit for McClendon, the student? He believes so. He said he plans to finish the school year at Signal and graduate.
“I want my diploma,” McClendon said. “I didn’t want to be lost out of high school [so I went to Signal because] I wanted to go somewhere I could get the best education I could get.
“They help me here in math and reading. I have low reading skills. I don’t pick things up the first time. If I’m reading, I have to read it over and over. My English teacher [at Signal Mountain] has worked so hard. In the classroom she makes me read out loud, but the students don’t make fun of me.”
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 ...