With a championship season on the line, Signal Mountain High School officials hope to regain at least some of six wins taken away by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association when its appeal is heard at 9 EDT this morning in Murfreesboro.
The TSSAA ruled on Oct. 7 that the school's football team had used an ineligible player and vacated six wins from the Eagles, who were well on their way to the District 7-AA championship and an appearance in the Class 4A playoffs.
"Is the whole issue up in the air? We think there's enough room [for debate] where it's worth appealing," Dr. Tom McCullough, the Signal Mountain principal, said Wednesday afternoon.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said after the governing body's decision that athletic eligibility did not accompany a hardship granted to Tim McClendon, the player ruled ineligible, by the Hamilton County Department of Education.
McCullough believes McClendon's eligibility should be reinstated and at least some of the vacated wins returned to the football team.
An expected centerpiece in the school's presentation is the TSSAA's definition of an eligible transfer student as stated in its compliance checklist. In order to be eligible, the student cannot have competed during the previous 12 months in any sport sponsored by the TSSAA. The checklist also says a transfer student is eligible as a direct result of rezoning or reassignment of students by the local school system.
"Because it isn't cut and dried, I decided to appeal in order to support our students and our team," McCullough said.
The appeal will be heard by the association's Board of Control, a nine-member panel of school administrators from across the state. One position is vacant so no more than eight will be present.
"It varies. ... I'm not sure how many will be there," said Matthew Gillespie, a TSSAA assistant director.
Signal Mountain's appeal also could be directed toward a misunderstanding of the TSSAA bylaw that states that school boards set school zones. The school contends that McClendon became part of Signal Mountain's territory because of the HCDE hardship.
McCullough, who is to be joined by football coach Bill Price, assistant principal and athletic director Patty Lane and a couple of parents he declined to name, also is expected to point out that Childress was informed of the possible infraction on Sept. 22 but the school wasn't informed of an investigation until Oct. 6, the day that TSSAA staff members Gene Menees and Mark Reeves showed up at the school.
The principal also clarified the process schools use when filling out eligibility forms.
"Bernard said somebody clicked the wrong button. That's inaccurate," McCullough said. "You click bona fide change of residence [on the online form], but territory is not something you click [as Childress said]. That's not part of the process.
"I have also been asked why we didn't apply for a [TSSAA eligibility] hardship. You only apply for a hardship if you're denied eligibility. This student wasn't denied eligibility."
The HCDE granted the hardship to McClendon, who lived in the Brainerd zone, to attend Signal Mountain. McClendon last year attended Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe across the state line in Georgia and says he lived in LFO's school zone in the Oglethorpe Ridge Apartments.
At the time the TSSAA penalty was made public, Signal Mountain had a 6-1 football record. The Eagles lost that night, Oct. 7, to Polk County in a nondistrict game, leaving them with a 0-2 record overall and a district record with no wins or losses. They won last Friday over Chattanooga Christian, and they have one district and regular-season game remaining on Oct. 28 at Sequatchie County.
Gillespie indicated that the hearing could be as short as 30 minutes or it could be longer.
"It depends on the school's presentation and how many questions and discussion come from the board," he said.
After hearing the presentation the board is likely to go into executive session, a closed meeting, to confer and make its decision before adjourning.
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 ...