Player's Mom, Signal's principal: "we played by all the rules"
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, HAMILTON COUNTY (WRCB)-- The Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association has granted Signal Mountain High School an appealOctober 20 in Murfreesboro to argue why it shouldn't have to vacate six victories after the TSSAA alleged the state 4-A Champion Eagles used an ineligible player.
"They expect us to follow the guidelines, we believe we were following the guidelines," Signal Mountain principal Dr. Tom McCullough tells Channel 3.
The player in question, senior fullback/linebacker Tim McClendon, enrolled at Signal Mountain as a 'hardship transfer' student during the fall semester, after spending his junior year at Lakeview High School in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and his sophomore year at Howard High School in Chattanooga.
"I wanted to put him where he would be away from gangs," McClendon's mother, Angela McReynolds, tells Eyewitness News. "He has learning abilities, and I want him to get a good education. He wants to play football."
Dr. McCullough also denies any claims that McClendon was 'recruited.'
"He (McClendon) did come to one of our staff members, yes," Dr. McCullough says. "He coached him in 8th grade and continued to be a mentor and father figure to him."
Dr. McCullough identifies the mentor as Shane Roberson. Roberson coached at LFO last season and joined the Eagles coaching staff this season.
Citing privacy laws, Hamilton County Schools Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lee McDade has declined to confirm the grounds for granting McClendon a 'hardship transfer' to Signal Mountain. McClendon and his mother list a home address that puts him in the zone to attend Brainerd High School.
But Dr. McCullough maintains 'eligibility to attend' equals 'eligibility to play'.
"They (school districts) don't intend for those students to be considered anything other than a full student at the school," he says.
The TSSAA doesn't see it that way.
"Education is a right; athletics are a privilege," TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress says. "He (McClendon) was granted eligibility based on incorrect information. Can't say it was misleading, because we don't know whether it was done on purpose."
Neither the school district, nor the TSSAA has provided Channel 3 with copies of McClendon's application for hardship transfer, nor his petition for athletic eligibility.
"This information has not been falsified," Dr. McCullough says. "Our application is the same today, as it was then!"
Dr. McCullough cites language in the TSSAA's own rules as the basis Signal Mountain's appeal.
"The by-laws state that a student is ineligible unless 'the new residence is inside the territory of the new school," Dr. McCullough says.
"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 Signal Mountain High School."
If the Eagles prevail in their appeal, restoration of the six vacated victories could make them eligible for the playoffs, with a shot at defending their championship.
If the TSSAA sanctions hold, Signal Mountain has no hope of a winning season, and McClendon's high school athletics career is over.
Moreover, he may have company.
"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," Dr. McCullough says.
As of Thursday evening, the HCDE was unavailable to provide Eyewitness News with a firm count of the number of 'hardship transfer' students deemed eligible to participate in athletics
"But we are crunching those numbers, anticipating that they know will become relevant," Dr. McDade says.
The HCDE will not participate in Signal Mountain's appeal hearing.
"Dealings with the TSSAA are up to the individual member schools," Dr. McDade says.
The hearing will be held at 8AM CDT next Thursday, in the Doubletree Center in Murfreesboro.