Controversial decision by soccer coach to pull team off field due to lightning sparks investigation

Controversial decision by soccer coach to pull team off field due to lightning sparks investigation

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Controversial decision by soccer coach to pull team off field due to lightning sparks investigation

A controversial girls soccer match Tuesday night between Smith County and visiting Mt. Juliet Christian Academy is being investigated by the TSSAA.

TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said Wednesday that his staff was still in the process of gathering information regarding a contest in which Mt. Juliet Christian left the field mid-match over what the Lady Saints perceived to be the presence of lightning.

Smith County not only disputes the lightning, but it also contends the Lady Saints should have to forfeit the match.

“We’ve had conflicting stories, I can tell you that,” Childress said. “It’s almost like they weren’t at the same soccer match.”

The TSSAA’s lightning policy, which mirrors that of the National Federation of High School Associations, states, “When thunder is heard within 30 seconds of a visible lightning strike or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. Suspend play for thirty minutes and take shelter.”

Mt. Juliet Christian thought those conditions were met Tuesday.

“If we make the determination that they took those kids off the field because there was lightning in the area and they saw it, there will be no forfeit of the game,” Childress said. “But we have to make that determination first.

“We’re still dealing with the situation and we’re looking to talk to anyone who was there, especially the police officers.”

Childress said that according to Mt Juliet Christian’s version of events, after the team’s attempts to have the match stopped were unsuccessful, Lady Saints coach Justin Berry instructed his squad to leave the field with still more than 10 minutes to play in the first half. The match was scoreless at the time.

“They’re saying not only could they hear the thunder; they could see the lightning,” Childress said. “And that they had a lightning detector that said the lightning was 1.6 miles away.”

But Smith County and the match’s officials saw and heard nothing of the sort, Childress said.

“(The officials) are saying that they followed the proper protocol because they did not see any lightning or hear any thunder,” Childress said. “So you can see the conflict we’re dealing with.”

Neither Smith County Principal Tim Towns or athletic director Scott Apple could be reached for comment Wednesday. However, Smith County Director of Schools Barry Smith announced in a statement, “After speaking with the principal and athletic director, I stand behind my coaches and administration.”

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