One vote was the difference between splitting or not.
The TSSAA’s Legislative Council collectively agreed not to force private schools who compete in Division I – including Jackson Christian and Trinity Christian – into Division II by a 5-4 decision.
Both Jackson schools’ athletic directors expressed relief at the decision – relief at the outcome and relief because the situation will hopefully return to the back burner of high school sports in the state for the foreseeable future.
“I’m glad they made the decision they did because obviously it’s best for us, but I think it’s best for the TSSAA as a whole,” said TCA athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Ken Northcut. “If we wanted to go to Division II, we would’ve made that choice ourselves.”
Jackson Christian athletic director Scott Gatlin outlined why the Eagles wanted to stay.
“Geographically it’s what’s best for us when you take out all the financial aspects of travel and smaller gates and everything else,” said Gatlin, whose school was in Division II for four years before moving back to Division I two years ago. “The atmosphere is different when you play a small town school because it’s one town of people united together, and our fans like to interact with that no matter how the team plays.”
The non-split wasn’t the only major decision made as three new representatives representing private schools – one from each grand division of the state – will join the Legislative Council and Board of Control and give voting rights to a representation of the private schools, which is something they didn’t have with Thursday’s vote.
University School of Jackson head football coach Mickey Marley traveled to Murfreesboro for the vote and – along with Northcut and Gatlin – was glad to see private schools get the representation.
“We need to have a chance to have our say in matters that get voted on,” Marley said. “Yes we have the opportunity to talk to the guys who are already on those committees, but are our concerns heard? I don’t know why they wouldn’t be, but this ensures they are.
“I appreciate the TSSAA for making this change.”
In lieu of the split, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress did say there were a few concerns in the organization’s bylaws that need to be addressed that could affect some of the concerns schools had in wanting a split.
•Student employment. Public and private schools that have tuition and offer employment for any athlete or parent, guardian or immediate family member of an athlete. That doesn’t pertain to athletes’ parents who are full-time certified teachers or certified employees.
Currently student employment is not considered need-based financial aid by the TSSAA.
•Tuition for athletes’ siblings. Currently athletes can’t receive aid in Division I schools. However, siblings of athletes can receive aid if they are not athletes.
•Recruiting issue. Childress pointed out that recruiting is difficult to prove. But that doesn’t apply to only private schools. Childress said the last eight recruiting violations that the association has been able to prove came from public schools.
•Non-faculty coaches: Private school coaches have told the TSSAA that they feel they have an advantage in the number of coaches they hire because they can employ a larger number of classified employees or non-certified teachers who work 30 hours per week or more at the school.
Legislative Council president Dan Black, superintendent of Bradford Special School District, voted against the split, as did Hardin County principal William McAdams. Black said he decided to vote no when the TSSAA said they wanted to revisit the bylaws.
“We want to do the right thing at all times, and I think splitting private schools without trying out these changes wouldn’t be that right thing to do at this time,” Black said. “So we’ve got a couple of months before we revisit this situation, and we’ll see how this goes.
“But for today, I think we made the right decision.”
Tom Kreager and Michael Murphy of Gannett Tennessee contributed to this article.
Brandon Shields, 425-9751
Read why Brandon Shields thinks the Legislative Council made the right move.