LAFOLLETTE — A plan for coaches to vote on whether to oust Norris Middle School from Class AAA's Area II was deemed unnecessary Monday when league officials received letters from a majority of the schools in the district stating that they would not play the Anderson County middle school.
Johnny Bruce, coordinator of TMSAA football in the region, notified coaches by text message Monday morning that a meeting scheduled for later in the afternoon — which was formally on the schedule as the district's annual playoff meeting, but where a vote on Norris's future in the league was also expected, according to reports — would not be held; with four of the other six schools in the league having drawn a line in the sand, the league's course of action for the remainder of the season was dictated without an official vote to remove Norris from the league being necessary.
Reportedly, Norris had already stated its intent to leave the league after the conclusion of the 2014 season.
As a result of the controversy, Oneida Middle's game against Norris on Thursday has been canceled.
The controversy erupted earlier this month, when LaFollette Middle School walked off the field late in the first quarter of its game against the Senators, opting to forfeit the game rather than complete it. According to the LaFollette Press, the Owls had five players injured during that first quarter. When the game was suspended, there had been 37 yards of total offense between the two teams and 135 penalty yards — including four personal foul penalties against Norris and two against LaFollette.
The Press quoted Bruce as saying that the situation was "ridiculous."
"It's just a constant personal foul, fighting and kids getting kicked out of games," Bruce told the paper. "We're just not going to tolerate it. We're not going to tolerate that. We're here for the kids. We just can't."
Norris had fought back, with video of the game being posted online and the team's coaches and athletics director arguing that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the field.
But the Sept. 11 game was just the latest — and most visible — in a series of complaints against the Anderson County middle school program. The previous week, Soldiers Memorial Middle School had forfeited its game against Norris rather than play the Senators. And Oneida Coach Heath Sexton said prior to Monday's decision that his team would not be playing its Sept. 25 game against Norris, which was a district opponent. Though the Indians had not lost a district game in six years, Sexton said he would accept a forfeit rather than subject his players to possible injuries.
"It was a difficult decision for me to make, but I felt it needed to be made," Sexton said prior to Monday's decision. "It's not about winning or losing."
Sexton said his understanding is that TMSAA won't count Thursday's scheduled game against Norris as a forfeit; instead, it will simply go down as a "no contest" and the final record will reflect that Oneida played seven regular season games this season.
Wheels had been turning towards Monday's decision for several weeks, according to reports. A meeting was held in LaFollette last week and attended by all coaches in the district. On Monday, the announcement was made that playoffs were not possible because a majority of teams in the district were refusing to play Norris.
According to proponents for eliminating Norris from the league, a pattern of play had developed that included multiple player ejections over the past four years. That included last year's game between Oneida and Norris, which saw a Senator ejected after a play. In a game against Norris earlier this season, Jacksboro had several players injured. A Senator player was also ejected in that game.
As a result of Monday's decision, the district's playoffs and championship game will be canceled. However, teams in the district can play a season-ending bowl game on Oct. 11. Oneida has been scheduled to play Jacksboro at 4 p.m. at Campbell County High School in the bowl game. In addition, two more of the teams in the district — Soldiers Memorial and Horace Maynard — will square off in a bowl game at Campbell County at noon on Oct. 11. Two other teams in the district, LaFollette and Clinton, were said to be mulling a bowl game for 2 p.m. that afternoon.
Sexton said it will be disappointing to tell his players that there will be no postseason playoffs or championship game; the Indians have won the past six championship games. However, he added, he can understand the reasoning behind canceling it.
"It's been a tough situation to deal with as a coach," he said.