HERMITAGE, Tenn. — Administrators from three Shelby County schools went to Hermitage Thursday to make their case for the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association to reverse its decision to ban them from the postseason for two years.
Principals from Melrose, Wooddale and Westwood high schools want to save their basketball seasons as they’re supposed to be heading into the playoffs.
They spoke about two separate games on January 25 that each ended in chaos.
“Security officers were breaking up fights, pushing students and fans out toward the exit. At that time, that’s when they sprayed the mace," said Westwood boys basketball coach Isiah Brown, whose team played Fairley High School that night.
A fight also broke out that night at the Wooddale-Melrose game.
Officials said a Melrose basketball player threw a ball at the head of a Wooddale player, thus causing the fight.
“Very unfortunate video we just watched, the incident on Jan. 25," Melrose principal Mark Neal said during the hearing.
According to video shown at the hearings, in both fights, fans from the stands ended up in the middle of the melee. In response, the TSSAA banned all four teams from the playoffs for two years and leveled some hefty fines.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress asked the principals what they have done to change fan behavior.
“At our most recent game, we turned away 38 people who wanted to be spectators because coming in the door, if you have a certain culture with you, we know it’s going to drag down and take from what spectators want to see," Westwood Principal Julia Callaway said.
The principals also said they’re working to rebuild relationships with their opponents. The students have met several times as a group to discuss their similarities and put differences behind them.
“People do make mistakes, and we want to make sure that they have a chance to right their wrongs," said Kevin Starks, Harding Academy boys basketball coach and TSSAA board member who advised Childress regarding the punishment.
It’s unclear whether Childress will reverse the two-year postseason suspension, since he said they’ve given that same punishment to other schools in similar situations. However, he did say after a few months, those schools came back to the board and presented their improvements. They subsequently had their punishments reduced.
“I’m hopeful they can take into consideration what measures we’ve already put in place and let that influence the decision today," said Shelby County Schools attorney Kenneth Walker II, who presented on behalf of all three schools.
Fairley High School officials also said they plan to appeal the decision, but that date has not been set yet.
The TSSAA executive director said he will likely release his decision about the fates of the schools Friday.