Hopeful for a fair compromise, Fayetteville High School has agreed to withdraw its court case against the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) over a player’s eligibility and take its appeal to compete in the playoffs before the organization’s Board of Control Tuesday.
A special called meeting of the board will get underway at 10 a.m. Tuesday to determine the school’s status in the playoffs set to begin next Friday. Until then, brackets for the Region 5-1A and Region 6-1A playoffs will remain up in the air.
The decision came Friday in Lewisburg where Judge M. Wyatt Burk was holding court and agreed to hear the TSSAA’s motion for dismissal, a motion that had been filed Wednesday. Burk, who usually presides over circuit court, had been named to the case after Chancellor J.B. Cox recused himself due to his contributions to the FHS football booster club.
“The judge agreed to hear the case this morning, because the TSSAA wanted to draw its brackets for the playoffs,” said Dr. Janine Wilson, director of Fayetteville City Schools, late Friday night, adding that Burk had urged the two sides to work out a compromise before he rendered a decision on whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to a hearing Nov. 13.
“Attorneys representing the TSSAA asked if we would consider going before their Board of Control,” she said. “We agreed, if they would delay drawing for the brackets ... The court case was not something we were adamant about, so we agreed to a compromise. We still maintain that we’ve followed the rules and done everything that we knew to do, all in good faith.
“I do feel hopeful that we will get a fair hearing before the board,” said Wilson. “Our kids obviously deserve to play – any team that can compete and win 10 consecutive games, and have their coaches work so hard, deserves that opportunity.”
The FHS Tigers had just won their 10th game of the regular season Friday night, defeating Sale Creek out of East Tennessee 43-13 at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium.
“It’s about what’s in the best interest of the kids,” she added. “If we’re successful, they get to keep playing. If we’re not, then they’re still successful in my book. This team has faced so much to be where they are.”
Undoubtedly, the greatest of those difficulties has been dealing with the loss of a teammate, student-athlete Tate Tuten, who was killed in an accident on Oct. 5.
The chain of events related to the court case was set into motion on Oct. 24 when TSSAA assistant director Gene Menees ruled in the wake of a complaint that a FHS athlete, who had transferred in at the start of the year, did not live in the school’s territory, or within the area served by the city school system’s buses, meaning he wouldn’t be eligible for another year. The decision took FHS from an undefeated season to having six losses and knocked them out of the playoffs.
Earlier in the year, though, FHS had sought and gained a decision from TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress that declared the athlete as eligible. In his letter, Childress confirmed that the athlete and his family had made a bona fide change of address to the FHS zone.
Per TSSAA bylaws, a transfer student must “live in the geographic boundaries and bus routes of the area served by the school as established by the local board of education.” The student resides outside Fayetteville’s city limits where the school provides bus service, but Lincoln County students are also eligible to attend city schools if they provide their own transportation.
FHS staff had requested multiple meetings with Childress on the Menees ruling, but Childress was and continues to be on extended medical leave.
In the school’s chancery court action, it noted that numerous provisions require the TSSAA executive director to perform certain duties, “including the initiation of investigation, notification to the school that is being investigated, evidence-gathering, conduction hearing and determination of whether a violation has occurred, and if so, what penalties should be imposed.” The complaint also stated that there is no provision by which Childress may delegate his duties.