The Aug. 22 controversial soccer match between Mt. Juliet Christian and host Smith County was considered suspended by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
In a letter sent to the schools last Thursday by TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress, Mt. Juliet Christian will not forfeit the match after coach Justin Berry removed his team from the field during the first half of the scoreless match at Smith County Soccer Complex in South Carthage. Berry removed the Lady Saints from the field and left the complex after he was unable to get the game stopped when the team’s lightning meter showed lightning to be 1.6 miles away.
Childress said based on statements from both schools and the game officials, “we cannot definitively conclude that the TSSAA lightning policy was knowingly violated by Smith County officials or the TSSAA referees.”
But Childress did say things could have been handled differently by game officials and administrators, saying the officials, and not the game administrator, were responsible to make weather-related decisions once the game begins, according to National Federation of High School soccer rules, which are followed by TSSAA. Once MJCA’s trainer told the Smith County administrator about the lightning, “he should not have dismissed her comments”, noting officials could have been alerted at the next logical stoppage of play.
Childress said one official said he heard and saw no thunder or lightning while the other thought “he may have heard something”, but attributed the sound to nearby Interstate 40.
The executive director, while acknowledging that game officials may not always see or hear conditions that coaches, trainers or fans observe, the parties should have come together to share what they knew, saw or heard and make a decision accordingly, especially when one official thought he heard something.
“Perhaps if this had happened, the game officials would have concluded that the rumble was not the interstate when the athletic trainer shared the information regarding the lightning detector.”
According to the letter, the schools may agree to resume the game from the point of suspension, replay the match from the beginning or not play it at all, which would be considered a no-contest.
“We must all realize the safety of our student athletes has to be our top priority,” Childress wrote. “It is our hope that in the future all adults involved in the administration of the event would do a better job communicating when concerns about the safety of the athletes are shared.”
By Andy Reed