Friday, May 31, 2019

TSSAA Sends Message After Coach's Ump Kick

After Haywood High School head coach Jeff 'Dusty' Rhodes appeared to kick at an umpire amidst his tantrum and tirade after being ejected during Tennessee's Class AA state tournament, the TSSAA fined and punished Rhodes' school, explaining that because Haywood failed to respond appropriately to its first-year baseball coach's misconduct, the TSSAA had no choice but to punish the school itself, since its bylaws prohibit disciplining individual school employees.

But wait...if you thought this was just a story about a coach losing it on an umpire, you underestimate the gravity of this tale.

According to WBBJ News, Rhodes was fired by the Decatur County Board of Education in December 2012 after the board suspended Rhodes on "suspicion of misconduct at Decaturville Elementary School," where he then-taught. Rhodes was head coach of the Decatur County Riverside High School baseball team at the time, and lost his job as a result of the alleged misconduct at the primary school.

Rhodes has a unique history in Tennessee.
In an...interesting...twist of fate, Rhodes is presently listed on the Decatur County Board of Education's website as a school board member (as Jeff Rhodes, and in Board documentation as Jeffrey Rhodes). Decaturville Elementary, where Rhodes had been suspected of misconduct in 2012, is one of the schools overseen by the Decatur County Board of Education, as is Riverside HS where Rhodes once coached.

Rhodes' current employer—Haywood High School—is governed by a different board, the Haywood County School Board.

Rhodes and Haywood assistant coach Alex Whitwell were ejected over an illegal pitch dispute—Haywood pitcher Ja'Darius Hines was called twice for an illegal hybrid pitching stance—during a post-season Spring Fling tournament game against Sequatchie County. Replays indicate that after Rhodes was ejected from the game, he responded by kicking at the umpire who threw him out, continuing to kick at the ground and dirt as the umpire walked away.
Related PostOdd Position - Limits of a Legal Pitching Delivery (3/6/18).

The hybrid stance is illegal in high school.
As the umpire continued walking away, Rhodes pursued and continued yelling at the official, even as Haywood High School players and coaches attempted to pull and restrain Rhodes.

NFHS Rule 3-3-1f prohibits the commission of any unsportsmanlike act, including the use of profanity (3-3-1f.2...Rhodes reportedly employed the use of profanity during his argument), while 3-3-1q states it is illegal for team personnel to: "have physical contact, spit, kick dirt or engage in any other physical action directed toward an umpire."

The High School penalty, other than ejection, is forfeiture ("Failure to comply shall result in the game being forfeited"), though best of luck to any umpire attempting to forfeit a postseason game.

Rhodes turns his ire toward another umpire.
The video's duration—one minute, 55 seconds—does not capture the entirety of the delay caused by Rhodes' misconduct, which pursuant to TSSAA bylaws, merits supplemental discipline.

After the game, Rhodes accused the umpire of baiting him into the ejection: "He was looking for something to get me to respond on."

By convention, the ejected party's school gets first crack at discipline, which the TSSAA can accept or augment.

Haywood school principal Latonya Jackson initially sought to mitigate punishment for her head coach's behavior: "This is our first incident of this manner with Coach Rhodes and this behavior is not typical for him. We feel that the suspension and fine [we are requesting - a $250 fine and two-game suspension] from the TSSAA is adequate and will not add any extra games to this suspension but will work closely with Coach Rhodes to offer support in order to prevent this behavior from happening again."

Haywood welcomed Rhodes in Summer 2018.
"First Incident" Occurred with a First-Year Coach
Perhaps Haywood High School never encountered such an incident "of this manner" with coach Rhodes before because 2019 was Rhodes' first season as head coach for the Haywood High School Tomcats.

Rhodes served as an assistant baseball and football coach for Hardin County High School until Summer 2018.

But the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) wasn't swayed by Jackson's words, deciding that the behavior demonstrated by Rhodes and Whitwell merited a more severe punishment, that the school itself bore responsibility, and that the school's failure to appropriately respond to Rhodes' misconduct merited additional discipline.

Haywood HS had a one-sided bench clearer.
According to aptly-named TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress: "The administration was given ample opportunity to address this unfortunate incident but chose to only enforce what the bylaws require. Principals and coaches must realize that they have more responsibilities than the general public to understand the purpose of high school athletics and the principals behind the TSSAA rules, and they must maintain that level of understanding and purpose when dealing with the general public and students."

Rhodes refuses to stop arguing balk call.
As such, TSSAA imposed the following sanctions:
> $250 fines for Rhodes and Whitwell for their ejections;
> Two-game suspensions for Rhodes and Whitwell;
> $2,000 fine levied against Haywood HS Baseball;
> $2,000 fine levied against Haywood Athletics;
> Two-year postseason ban for Haywood Baseball;
> Two-year probation for Haywood Athletics.

Childress, explained, rules-wise, why the organization's punishment against the school was so severe, compared to a pair of $250 fines and two-game suspensions for the ejected coaches: "It's a very difficult call for us because we are an organization that cannot discipline school employees. The way our constitution is written, we're limited in what we can do. Our hands are tied because we can only penalize the athletic program since it's those programs that are members of the TSSAA. That's why we ask the schools to tell us what they're going to do.

Rhodes advances as students restrain him.
"It's up to the administrators to take action that is appropriate for whatever the violation is, and in this incident, the action that the school administration had submitted was not appropriate for the behavior of their coaches. We have to penalize appropriately so we can send a message to others that this will not be tolerated."

Because Haywood High School Baseball was eliminated from the 2019 postseason, coaches Jeff "Dusty" Rhodes—not to be confused with the late MLB player James "Dusty" Rhodes (who was ejected just twice during his 1952-59 playing career)—and Alex Whitwell will serve their suspensions during the first two games of the 2020 varsity season.

Meanwhile Eagleville, TN head coach Travis Holland also had a bad day: After being ejected arguing a reversed call, Rutherford County Schools suspended him without pay after video surfaced purportedly showing Holland rubbing the back of a female student.

Video (of the Rhodes ejection) as follows:
Alternate Link: Head coach's tantrum & school's non-response net discipline (@WebbWright)

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