MURFREESBORO – The eyes of a nation have shone brightly – but quite unkindly – on Rutherford County since the girls’ basketball coaches at Riverdale and Smyrna decided to make a mockery of the sport in particular and sportsmanship in general.
It went “viral” as points of blame swirled from coach to player to administrator to parent to attending fans like a wind vane blown by a storm. The general consensus is that the coaches – Riverdale’s Cory Barrett and Smyrna’s Shawn Middleton – instructing players to lose the District 7-AAA consolation game acted selfishly and reprehensibly.
If successful in losing, that team would avoid top-ranked and defending state champion Blackman until the finals of the Region 4-AAA tournament, where a sectional berth is guaranteed win or lose for a one-game playoff for a state tournament berth.
Let’s don’t be naïve and think this the first time such a tanking has happened in high school sports and other athletic arenas as well. But the action of the players under the coaches’ direction was so out of bounds that swift action needed to be taken, far beyond than the teams being booted from postseason play by the TSSAA and the schools fined $1,500 each.
On Wednesday, Rutherford County Director of Schools Don Odom suspended Middleton and Barrett from coaching any sport through the 2015-16 school year. They will remain in their teaching positions, but each lose the annual $8,393 coaching stipend.
Pending Wednesday’s decision, Smyrna principal Rick Powell had already suspended Middleton from coaching, while Riverdale principal Tom Nolan had suspended Barrett the first two games of next season.
There are those who feel the two coaches should have been fired immediately. If that happened, it would be difficult to argue they didn’t deserve it.
The punishment needed to be swift and significant, and what the coaches received from Odom was certainly that. The amount of public outcry will tarnish their coaching careers, and their foolishness will follow them forever.
But it is also apparent that both Middleton and Barrett had built enough equity in the teaching and coaching bank to earn another chance at their respective schools, if they and/or the administrators deem it proper after next year’s suspension.
By nearly all accounts, each has been a proper role model, strong leader and outstanding coach. Until last Saturday, there weren’t even whispers about their coaching and teaching ability and commitment to players, programs and schools alike.
Middleton has long coached various sports at Smyrna. His losing the family home during a 2009 tornado – and the eventual return of a pair of lost Smyrna High football championship rings – was well-documented. He is a Bulldog through and through.
Barrett comes from the long line of successful coaches, who like former Riverdale state championship coach Micheal Burt hails from Cannon County. Barrett’s step-uncle is MTSU women’s basketball coach Rick Insell.
Certainly, the embarrassment caused by all of this will – and should – weigh heavily on Barrett and Middleton. Their coaching names and subsequent fortunes will be forever tied to last Saturday night and the fallout that grew to national proportions.
Barrett and Middleton deserve another chance. Fairly yet strongly so, Rutherford County Schools has afforded them just that.
Greg Pogue, former executive sports editor at The DNJ, is host of the morning sports talk show on 94.9 FM and 95.1 FM Game 2. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ThePoguester.