Contreversy Surrounds Track

Jake Melton, Sports Editor

Coffee County’s 4×400 team has turned heads this year. In April, they ran a time of 3:47.79 breaking the school record by 1.5 seconds, which was set in 2010. On Tuesday May 8, the team ran a time of 3:36.6 at sub-sectionals breaking their own record by over 11 seconds. This set them in 3rd place out of the 13 teams that attended the meet. In the sub-sectional meet the top four finishers of each event advanced to sectionals allowing the team to qualify. Their legs of the relay were ran in this respective order: Gage DeMarree, Trace Bryant, Leo Penne, and Jalen Cummings.

When viewing the finishing times Coach Wanuch was shocked to see that the CCCHS relay team did not finish 3rd and was in fact disqualified, though through the full race each athlete stayed in the correct exchange zone. After a brief moment of confusion it was brought to Wanuch’s attention that Jalen Cummings allegedly spiked the baton on the ground after finishing his race, which caused the disqualification of the 4×400 team. Cummings denies the accusations as well as many athletes and coaches from Coffee County, Tullahoma, and Franklin County. Many spectators who saw the scenario claim Cummings hugged his coach, then fell to the ground in exhaustion. The individual who made these accusations was a member of Oakland’s coaching staff who then brought it to the attention of the TSSAA official who disqualified Coffee County’s relay team. Ironically, Oakland originally finished 5th in this race. Coffee County’s disqualification resulted in Oakland being bumped up to 4th place giving them the opportunity to advance. Cummings was not informed of the disqualification nor were any of CCCHS’s coaches. This should’ve been done according to the TSSAA policy. A member of the Smyrna’s 4×400 team was also accused of spiking the baton. The official informed the coach and following the discussion it was ruled that “the red team” threw the baton (referring to Coffee County). Before the race, a member of Oakland’s 4×400 team taunted Cummings which should have resulted in the disqualification of Oakland’s team. Additionally, multiple athletes had visible logos on articles of clothing that exceeded the standard in the TSSAA handbook. When this was brought to the meet director’s attention, who is the head coach of Oakland, the complaint was brushed off. These events caused a downward spiral and led to an argument between the coaches from multiple teams. One of Oakland’s coaches claimed he saw the baton in the infield as if this implies Cummings threw it at the ground. Still, once the team was disqualified it required indisputable video evidence to be overturned. Along with this, any downward motion of Cummings’ hand could be interpreted as a throw.

It was a really unfortunate decision to disqualify the team as there were a number of questionable circumstances. The rule itself is vague and open to wide interpretation. According to TSSAA, the official has the right to interpret the rule as he or she sees fit, so any motion that resulted in the baton falling to the track, regardless of how long after the conclusion of the race, could be interpreted as a throwing motion. A coach has a 30 minute window to voice a protest to a referee regarding a call. Smyrna was given that opportunity, but we were not. This incident draws to light a situation in which a questionable call is made and there is no established process to fairly evaluate the ruling and determine if it really was a correct ruling or not. I really hope that the coaches can learn from this situation and take steps to prevent it in the future. I really feel badly for my athletes who earned the right to compete at sectionals but will not be allowed to,” said Coach Wanuch about the incident. Wanuch has made an appeal to TSSAA on the decision to disqualify the relay team and requested a different official to preside over the sectional race for which five Coffee County athletes qualified. Additionally, Wanuch submitted a formal complaint to the meet director asking that an amendment be made to the rules to prevent this situation from happening again. Due to the lack of enough viable evidence to even give CCCHS a chance, Wanuch was not able to make a formal appeal like he would have liked to do. Wanuch looked into a number of ways to get the decision reversed, but had no luck. The official did not follow the process that the TSSAA established for protesting a referee’s call, yet it is doubtful that it is enough to lead to a reinstatement of the team. The TSSAA has an appeal process, but it is a timely process which would not have allowed time for the team to be reinstated, and the set precedent is to stand by the original call even when the official who made the call admits it was the wrong call.