With a potential vote Nov. 12 by the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association on background checks for high school game officials, Williamson and Wilson county school districts decided to move up the schedule and do their own checks.
Most school systems, however, have waited on a TSSAA decision.
“We believe the responsibility for verifying acceptability for employment of athletic officials is with TSSAA, the organization responsible for assigning game officials to schools in Tennessee,” Elise Shelton, chief communications officer for Montgomery County Schools, said in a statement. “We have advised our district coaching staffs and school administrators to ensure that our student athletes are not given the opportunity to be alone with TSSAA game officials.”
The findings by Williamson and Wilson county schools were mixed.
By late afternoon Wednesday, Williamson County Schools had fingerprinted 245 officials — across all sports — during background checks, and according to WCS Director Mike Looney, about 97 percent of those have been cleared to work.
“There are 23 out of 245 that came back with criminal records,” Looney said. “But some of those will be cleared (to officiate in Williamson). They were minor offenses. We’re excited about (the ones who cleared). They’re obviously upstanding officials with solid records, and we’re excited to have them on the field.”
Williamson to background check officials
Wilson to immediately screen sports officials
Wilson County Schools reported no officials being banned from games there.
“We haven’t found any (with serious criminal backgrounds),” public information officer Amelia Hipps said. Hipps said officials in all sports were checked. “We’re pleased with that.”
Wilson County was the first school system to begin administering background checks, scanning IDs during football games Sept. 25, one week after a Glencliff football player collided with an official during a game at Gallatin.
That incident sparked controversy and conversation throughout the Midstate. The video went viral, which put the official — Kyle Gill — in the spotlight. Gill said in an interview that he thought the collision was “malicious.”
On Sept. 23, it was announced the TSSAA — which does not administer background checks for game officials — had suspended Gill as it investigated whether he provided improper background information before being hired as an official. The association checked after receiving a tip.
The Tennessean then found that Gill had an arrest history and pleaded no contest in 2007 to attempted statutory rape and aggravated criminal trespassing in Rutherford County. His probation stipulated that he “not take any job with any school system while on probation.”
The TSSAA followed with an announcement it would consider a proposal to begin background checks for prospective officials during its Nov. 12 meeting.
TSSAA suspends official run over by Glencliff player
Former football official had arrest history
While Williamson and Wilson decided not to wait the month-and-a-half for that decision, most school systems have stood pat.
Rutherford County Schools spokesman James Evans said the school system plans to wait for a TSSAA decision on background checks, but would support them.
“The expense incurred for background checks for all game officials that work the county’s middle school and high school games would be a high expense for the county to fund itself,” Evans said.
Metro Nashville Public Schools took a similar stance.
“Right after all that (news about Kyle Gill) came out, we were set to look into having officials individually checked, but we talked with (Executive Director) Bernard Childress of TSSAA and sort of got a game plan of what they were going to do and didn’t really want that to conflict,” said Roosevelt Sanders, athletic director for Metro Schools.
“They were going to start that pretty soon for all officials, so right now we are just kind of collaborating with them. We’re just waiting to hear back from them on what they’re implementing. Instead of having each individual checked by sport or county, this will get everybody. All officials will have to be checked by the TSSAA no matter what sport it is.”
Dickson and Robertson counties are other school systems that will let TSSAA decide on the issue. Attempts to reach officials in Sumner County and Cheatham County (which are both on fall break) were unsuccessful.
Looney said Williamson County Schools would welcome a decision by TSSAA to begin background checking game officials but is prepared to continue doing so itself.
“My hope is that the TSSAA will require (background checks) going forward and we would share with them (under law) what we have,” Looney said. “Hopefully they would take on the responsibility of managing it.”
Gannett Tennessee’s Sam Brown, Tom Kreager, George Robinson, Chris Lynn and John Bailey contributed to this report.