Armstead said spectators caused incident to escalate
By Steve Williams
In an exclusive interview with The Knoxville Focus last week, Austin-East Athletic Director Alvin Armstead said spectators coming out of the stands were what caused an incident in a high school boys’ basketball game between A-E and Brainerd to escalate Saturday, Jan. 27, in Chattanooga.
“It got out of hand real fast, but initially we had it broken up when they (teams) kind of came together,” said Armstead. “Coaches, officials, myself, we were all right there in the middle. And then people started coming out of the stands and that’s what escalated it to what we are dealing with now.”
Armstead made his comments last Wednesday, Feb. 7, in an office room at the East Knoxville high school. It was the afternoon before the TSSAA Board of Control was to hear an appeal by the two schools.
The results of that hearing Thursday did not change the sanctions made earlier by the TSSAA, which included a two-year restrictive probation that bans the two teams from playing in the post-season tournament.
Principal Nathan Langlois and Armstead represented Austin-East at the hearing.
“The Board voted to keep the original Disciplinary Action in place for Austin-East High School with the understanding that Austin-East has put in place 12 sportsmanship initiatives that they are and will be working on as a community. The Board would entertain another appeal by the Austin-East administration once significant progress has been made with these 12 initiatives,” stated the report sent to The Focus by Matthew Gillespie, Assistant Executive Director of the TSSAA.
The Board also voted to keep the original Disciplinary Action in place for Brainerd.
Therefore, the Austin-East Roadrunners, who were ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AA at the time of the incident, have only one regular season game left to play. That will be against Bearden, one of the state’s top Class AAA teams, Tuesday night at A-E.
“Most of our students were actually trying to pull our students out of it,” said Armstead as he described the incident that caused a stoppage of the game in the second quarter.
“We even had cheerleaders trying to pull students out, also had parents trying to separate kids and pulling them away from the melee.”
Armstead said the people who came out of the stands and caused the situation to quickly worsen weren’t parents.
“I know they weren’t parents,” he said. “They were spectators from both sides – from Austin-East and Brainerd. But it escalated really quickly when they came out.
“I felt like we had it under control. We separated everybody. None of the kids from Austin-East or Brainerd were throwing any punches or anything. Initially, it was just kind of jockeying for position, things like that. But when people came from out of the stands that’s what got it to what we’re dealing with now.
“We were just trying to break it up. I mean we fell to the ground trying to separate things. We did see, but I could not identify … It was so quick and fast how things had just kind of gotten to that point.”
In handing out fines and sanctions, the TSSAA did allow for the two schools to finish playing their regular season games.
Austin-East had two district games remaining with Alcoa and one at Scott High, but those two schools made decisions to not play the Roadrunners.
“I was hoping to play last night (Feb. 6),” said A-E Coach Marcus Stanton in an e-mail to The Focus last week. “However, Alcoa called and said that we wouldn’t be playing because they did not feel safe. That’s strange because we’ve played them for years and have never had any issues.
“Surely enough as that news got out Scott called and told us that they did not want to play us either.”
Bearden Coach Jeremy Parrott, however, is bringing his talented Bulldogs to Austin-East to play. It will be Bearden’s final game before the District 4-AAA tournament begins later this week.
“Yes, we are honoring the game,” e-mailed Coach Parrott Thursday to confirm. “There will be a JV boys and Varsity boys’ game. No girls’ game.”
When offered to make a comment about why Alcoa had made the decision to not play Austin-East, Alcoa Athletic Director Joshua Stephens replied: “Our #1 priority is to complete all of our district games that will affect us in the post season. For more information contact our director of Schools Dr. Brian Bell.”
Dr. Bell replied Friday: “Josh is correct in that our priority is our students. We were concerned playing a team that had been banned from the post season and at the same time we were still playing to get to the post season. Our decision was based on what we believe is the best for our students.”
Jody Wright of Fulton High, one of 12 members of the TSSAA Board of Control, e-mailed Friday:
“Austin East administration did an outstanding job in their appeal before the Board of Control … The Board upheld the state office’s decision but gave Austin East the opportunity to reappear and appeal … Due to the fact that Austin East is in our district, I recused myself from the vote.”
Wright also is an assistant principal, athletic director and boys’ head basketball coach at Fulton.
Three of Austin-East’s 12 sportsmanship initiatives include:
— Sending two officers to away games who will sit on the bench with players at all times. Two members of the Austin-East staff will also attend all away games.
— Any fan who goes onto the floor will receive an automatic one-year ban from home or away games.
— Anyone found guilty of fighting will be kicked off the team.