Riverdale, Smyrna coaches suspended for 2015-16 season, district says

MURFREESBORO – Coaching responsibilities of two Rutherford County girls basketball coaches were suspended Wednesday, four days after their teams purposely tried to lose a district tournament consolation game.

“Good athletic coaches possess skills that maximize the players’ skills, strategize winning game plans, instill self-discipline and impart the value of teamwork to reach a common goal,” Rutherford County Schools Director Don Odom said in a release. “Players also learn skills that build integrity and character, primarily by how their coach models before them. In these last two areas, we failed last Saturday evening.”

Odom removed Riverdale coach Cory Barrett and Smyrna coach Shawn Middleton as coaches through the end of the 2015-16 school year, while also withholding their basketball coaching supplements, which totaled $8,393 apiece.

Odom’s decision extends to all Rutherford County athletic programs. Middleton was also a Smyrna assistant softball coach.

Their potential for coaching after next school year in the county will be evaluated annually.

Odom also referenced the school district’s code of ethics for coaches, which states in part: “The coach must be aware that he or she occupies a position of great influence on the education of a student-athlete and therefore should never place the value of winning above the value of instilling the highest ideals of character.

Riverdale, Smyrna girls basketball teams removed from postseason

“Coaches must uphold the honor and dignity of their position. In all contacts with student-athletes, officials, school administrators, competitors and the public, coaches shall set an example of the highest ethical and moral conduct.”

Smyrna principal Rick Powell had already decided to remove Middleton as coach, but waited on Odom to determine a length of time.

Riverdale girls beat Oakland 70-59 on Monday Feb. 9, 2015.

Riverdale girls beat Oakland 70-59 on Monday Feb. 9, 2015.

Odom’s release did not state either principal’s plan on who would coach the respective girls program next season.

A request for interview by text message and email to Riverdale Principal Tom Nolan was not returned to The Daily News Journal. Phone messages left for principal Rick Powell at Smyrna High and at home also were not returned.

Riverdale coach Cory Barrett chose not to comment, saying he must have approval from his principal. Middleton did not return a request for interview by text message.

Smyrna beats Riverdale in controversial consolation

Riverdale parent Brandon Patrick on Wednesday was supportive of Barrett and of the decision.

“As a Riverdale parent of a player and avid supporter, I appreciate the grace and mercy the school board and superintendent Don Odom displayed upon coach Barrett,” Patrick wrote in an email. “Cory Barrett is a great coach and man, who is a positive role model for our children in spite of his error in judgment on Saturday. We all make errors in judgment and need grace and mercy in our own lives.

“Coach Barrett has helped many girls gain self-confidence through basketball and has always shown to go the extra mile to help players get to the next level in college if it is their desire. The ruling for the error in judgment was fair. Coach Barrett and the Riverdale program have been disciplined with wisdom and not by emotion by the school board.”

School Board member Aaron Holladay said Wednesday he was proud of the decision made by Odom.

“The actions you’ve taken (Wednesday) I applaud,” Holladay said. “I’m very proud Don Odom is director of schools in Rutherford County.”

Barrett, Middleton deserve second chance

Rutherford County Board of Education Chairman Wayne Blair said in recent days he has received calls and emails from people he knows associated with both programs.

“Everyone’s embarrassed, and they want the coaches held responsible,” said Blair, a Smyrna High graduate.

“It’s an emotional topic. I’m heartbroken and sick for the seniors because that ended up being the last game of their careers.”

As a board member, Blair said he’s had to remind people that the board only has one employee, Odom, and that all other district employees ultimately report to Odom.

“I’ve tried to make myself available as a sounding board for anyone that wanted to share concerns or frustrations with me. I’ve tried to not interfere in the process. I told Mr. Odom I’d support his decision 100 percent because I have confidence in his ability to lead the school system,” said Blair, who lives in Smyrna.

Board member Jeff Jordan spent 11 years coaching boys and girls basketball as an assistant at Riverdale. Jordan said the last three days “have been miserable” as the story made the rounds with national media outlets.

Kreager: 7-AAA image stained by lack of effort in consolation

“It hurts, especially since I was at Riverdale so long. Everybody wants to talk about it when I go out,” he said. “I’ve had plenty of people give me their opinions. Some folks wanted to know if the TSSAA punishment was all that would come down, or if we’d try to fight it.”

The TSSAA placed both on restrictive probation on Monday, removing them from the postseason. The two girls programs were also fined $1,500 apiece and put on probation for next school year.

Purposely playing to lose a game, Jordan said, “is the exact opposite of what we teach kids.”

“Work, put forth your best effort is what the lesson is. Saying ‘Our mission today is to lose’ is hard to get your mind around,” he added.

The ruling from the central office comes after Smyrna defeated Riverdale 55-29 in a consolation game marred by intentionally missed free throws, numerous game violations and nearly shooting at the opponents basket in an effort to be seeded on the opposite side of the Region 4-AAA bracket from defending state and national champion Blackman.

Riverdale alum calls tanking fiasco a ‘bad image’

The third-place finisher is paired up on the same side of the bracket as the district champion. However, the consolation game was played prior to the championship game involving Blackman and Oakland. Blackman, though, won the game.

The fourth-place finisher could not have met Blackman until the region finals, which is a non-elimination game.

However, neither team got an opportunity to play in a region quarterfinal since they are not eligible for postseason play until next year.

A referee’s report to the high school athletic association noted that Riverdale “missed 12 to 16 free throws intentionally.” And that Smyrna “wouldn’t get the ball across the half-court line to get a 10-second count, or to make us call an over and back violation intentionally.”

The referee said “one time a Riverdale girl looked at one of the officials and gave the official a 3-second signal wanting him to call three seconds on her. Smyrna stood in the lane as well to have us call three seconds on them.”

The referee wrote that he finally called the coaches together for a meeting after “a Smyrna player was about to attempt a shot at the wrong basket (but there was a 10-second violation call before they attempted the shot) on purpose.

Many to blame for teams’ tanking

“That was when I called both coaches together and told them we are not going to make a travesty or mockery of the game. WE ARE NOT GOING TO START TRYING TO SHOOT AND SCORE FOR THE OTHER TEAM.”

Smyrna held a 30-25 lead with about four minutes left when Smyrna assistant principal Sherri Southerland approached Middleton and told him to play to win. Middleton then reinserted his starters and the team went on to win by 26 points.

Smyrna assistant principal Billy Harris, who also serves as the school athletic director, said he arrived at the game around halftime, but was there to hand out region tournament packets.

“I was half-way watching,” Harris said. “I did call Rick (Powell) as soon as I realized what was going on and told him.”

Harris defended the late reaction by the school to step in.

“Everybody can be an armchair quarterback on what should have been done,” Harris said. “Until you’ve been placed in that position, you don’t know what you would do. But I didn’t get there until halftime.

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“We did what we thought was adequate. We let our supervisor know and had an administrator say something to our coach.”

In a meeting with the school’s principals on Wednesday, Odom told Nolan and Powell to “make sure the assistant principals know that they have the authority to intervene with the coaches if the head principal is not present at the game,” Rutherford County Schools spokesman James Evans said.

Neither Powell or Nolan was at the game, which was played at Riverdale.

The tanking also may have other ramifications for both programs as supporters choose to decide if they want to continue to help the programs financially.

Riverdale graduate Kirk Catron, an attorney with McCarter, Catron & East in Murfreesboro, said he has asked Nolan to remove the firm’s sponsorship plate in the gym and will not be sponsoring the basketball program next season because of the tanking of the game.

“It’s something we’ll re-evaluate later,” said Catron, who said the firm will continue to support other Riverdale athletic programs. “I work in a field where your name means a lot. It’s not something that right now we want our firm to be associated with.

“But I’m also a criminal defense attorney. So second chances are huge. I believe in second chances.”

Catron, who did not attend the game, said he was initially angered, but later embarrassed.

“It’s deeper than just that Riverdale did it,” Catron said. “Shawn Middleton coached me in baseball growing up. He’s been a real positive influence. I’ve known him for 25-plus years.”

Catron added that he believes the punishment is appropriate.

Odom said he was sorry for the embarrassment the incident has had on the community.

“Rutherford County Schools apologizes to the Riverdale and Smyrna High basketball players and parents for the lack of leadership exhibited by two of our coaches last Saturday evening in the district consolation game,” Odom said. “Players lost opportunities to compete in a regional tournament, lost opportunities for all-tournament status and to showcase their individual talents to collegiate scouts.

“We also apologize to the citizens of Rutherford County because of the embarrassment generated locally and nationally for teams motivated to throw a game.”

Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or Follow him on Twitter @Kreager. Contact Mealand Ragland-Hudgins at 615-278-5189 or Follow her on Twitter @dnj_mrhudgins.

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