Johnson City school leader apologizes for football game conduct

Nathan Baker • Nov 5, 2013 at 5:32 PM

The superintendent of Johnson City Schools issued a formal apology to Kingsport City Schools administrators Monday after rumors of inappropriate behavior perpetrated by Science Hill High School students, staff and supporters at a hotly contested football game between the two high schools.

Director of Schools Richard Bales said he didn’t personally see any of the poor conduct reported on social media websites after Friday’s game, but he still emailed an apology to Kingsport’s superintendent and Dobyns-Bennett High School’s principal after hearing reports of destruction of property and pushing at the game between the longstanding next-door rivals.

“I felt like, not knowing if it was true or not, if it did happen, it shouldn’t have,” Bales said Monday. “If there was anything that happened in terms of inappropriateness or destruction of property, I wanted to apologize for the fans, the students and the staff.”

After the game — at which Science Hill’s Hilltoppers pulled off a fourth-quarter victory at Kingsport’s J. Fred Johnson Stadium to break the Indians’ 19-year winning streak — Facebook and Twitter were flooded with reports of unsportsmanlike conduct, including an incident in which the band director of Dobyns-Bennett’s marching band, Lafe Cook, reportedly was pushed by a member of Science Hill’s coaching staff.

According to some of the accounts, like in the posts on the Dobyns-Bennett Band Boosters Facebook page, as the Hilltoppers left the field at halftime — with a 7-point deficit — the Science Hill coach pushed a member of the Dobyns-Bennett marching band waiting on the sidelines to take part in the band’s senior awards and then again pushed Cook when the band director intervened.

Kingsport resident Kristin Dockery said she was sitting in the first line of bleachers near the field and saw the push from the coach to the director, but she didn’t see any other contact between the coach and a student, nor could she hear any words between the two.

“I was sitting in the stands, the senior band members were lining up to be recognized for senior night and the Science Hill football team was about to come off the field,” Dockery said. “All of a sudden, I looked down and saw Mr. Cook get shoved.”

She said police immediately intervened after the push, spoke with the band director briefly and then talked to him again after the awards ceremony.

According to the Kingsport Police Department’s records office, there was no report filed Friday night referencing a disturbance at the stadium and there was no ongoing criminal investigation.

Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said he wasn’t aware of any shoving, but said police officers were needed to escort his team from the field to the locker rooms as an unidentified man yelled at the students.

“As we came off, some guy was jumping on the coaches, yelling that we were classless and to get off the field,” Carter said. “I don’t know who he was, and I don’t think we need to go there or anything. The game’s over.”

Science Hill’s Athletic Director Keith Turner said the social media posts were “not true at all.”

“The football team was trying to get off, the band was trying to get on, and it just got congested,” Turner said. “That’s why I don’t pay any attention to what I hear on social media — it’s not even close to true.”

He said the principals of both schools met after the game and put the issue to rest.

Science Hill’s principal, Melanie Riden-Bacon, was out of town Monday and could not be reached by cellphone.

Assistant Principal Jeff Aldridge said he wasn’t aware of any altercation at the football game.

“I didn’t hear anything, both of them were excited,” Aldridge said. “It was just one of those games, D-B versus Science Hill.

“I couldn’t tell you anything even if I did know about it,” he added.

After several unanswered calls and emails Monday to Kingsport administrators, the school system’s spokesman issued a brief statement via email that also attributed the night’s events to a “spirited rivalry.”

“Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill have experienced an exciting and spirited rivalry for many decades,” Kingsport City Schools’ Chief Information Officer Andy True wrote. “Friday night’s football contest was yet another in the long line of competitive matchups between the two schools. D-B and Kingsport City Schools wishes Science Hill well as they begin their TSSAA football playoff journey this Friday against Farragut.”

Bales said he received a positive response to his apology from D-B’s principal and he considered the matter closed.

“Unless we get something more specific, there’s no investigation to my knowledge,” he said.

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