After three Tennessee high school basketball players were charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault in connection with an alleged hazing incident that left a teammate hospitalized, the district superintendent decided Wednesday to bring an abrupt end to the team’s season.
During a special school board meeting Wednesday evening, Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith said local police and the district attorney’s office “have expressed concern regarding the extent to which the press and social media have been speculating upon the incident,” per a transcript from the Chattanoogan. Because law enforcement could not publicly comment on the case, it asked the board of education “to take whatever steps might be reasonable not to fuel the speculation,” Smith said.
“A great deal of the public speculation has centered around the operation of Ooltewah High School’s boys’ varsity basketball program,” he continued. “Since this speculation is likely to continue until the investigation is concluded, and since this speculation could threaten the integrity of law enforcement’s investigation, I have decided to end the team’s 2015-2016 season.”
Board chairman Jonathan Welch assured attendees that the alleged assault will not just be “swept under the rug,” as local law enforcement is in the midst of investigating it. He also asked attendees to allow law enforcement to “do their jobs,” saying,” We cannot supersede any law enforcement investigation. But we can benefit from their investigation if we allow them the space to work.”
“There are many questions that need to be answered,” he continued. “But some of the questions being asked cannot be answered until all investigations are complete.”
Following the meeting, the school board’s attorney, Scott Bennett, told reporters that the school system is under a gag order, preventing anyone involved in the case from commenting publicly, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He also said two district attorney’s offices separately ordered the district not to conduct its own investigation into the alleged assault.
According to the paper, the varsity team had 13 games remaining on its schedule. It had played four since the alleged assault took place.
Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association Executive Director Bernard Childress told the Associated Press that he can’t ever remember a school cancelling the remainder of a season for disciplinary reasons before now.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.