The seasons of two high school baseball teams in Tennessee came to a halt in the playoffs after a benches-clearing brawl broke out.
During the Division 1-3A playoffs over the weekend, Elizabethton and Unicoi County's game in Johnson City turned violent when an Elizabethton player punched a Unicoi County player near third base after an altercation midplay. The brawl led to the cancellation of each team's season by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
Elizabethton-Unicoi County High School Baseball Brawl
BENCH CLEARING BRAWL
2 Tennessee high school baseball teams both got suspended for the rest of their seasons for this dust up. pic.twitter.com/y1OgdVFztC
— Foul Pole Sports (@FoulPoleSports) May 14, 2023
The punch was thrown after what appeared to be a collision as the runner was reaching third base. Nearly every player for Unicoi County then raced out of the dugout as parents looked on in disbelief. Elizabethton players also rushed out of the dugout.
In addition to both seasons concluding, the TSSAA fined Unicoi County $1,250 and placed it on "restrictive probation" for the rest of the current school year as well as next school year, according to WJHL.com. Elizabethon was handed harsher penalties, including a fine of $1,750 and two years of probation.
In statements to WJHL, both Unicoi County Director of Schools John English and Elizabethton City Schools Director of Schools Richard VanHuss said the incident was unfortunate event and that many players were attempting to de-escalate the fight.
"I just think the whole thing was just really unfortunate for both teams," English said. "Anything I would say about our kids, I would say about the major majority of Elizabethton's players as well. I think a lot of kids reacted to a really bad situation in the right way."
VanHuss added: "We're extremely apologetic from our side, as a community, that Unicoi's gotten wrapped up in this, as well as so many of our student-athletes who did the right thing and performed and reacted in the right way. But we understand what the rules are."
Whether both schools' seasons should have come to an end remains up for debate. Many of the Unicoi County kids were confused about what they did wrong, especially after watching one of their teammates getting socked at third base.
"They were torn up about like, 'Did we do something wrong?'" English told WJHL.com. "I had to say no. I would've hated to think that they watch there and see a teammate and not run out. They didn't go out looking for blood, looking to fight other players. There needs to be some credit given to a whole lot of student-athletes on both sides for that."
English also said Unicoi County is appealing the decision.
As a result of both teams being tossed from the playoffs, Sullivan East was reinstated to the district tournament after being previously eliminated.
While the penalties were harsh, it appears these kids made amends rather quickly. In a post on Facebook, players from each team came together to apologize and attend their schools' softball tournament in the days after the brawl.
"They greeted each other, apologies were exchanged, hand shakes were given," wrote Seth Berry. "This was not prompted by any adults that I am aware of just sincere young men doing what is right. It didn't stop at the start of the ballgame, during the game players from both teams could be seen having conversations throughout the ballgame."
In addition, Unicoi County High School Athletic Director Chris Bogart tweeted in response to the video that "the families of the players involved have spoken multiple times and apologies have been made. And accepted. The school administration from the players school who threw the punch have reached out to the family of our player. Much respect to them. They are a school with true class."
The families of the players involved have spoken multiple times and apologies have been made. And accepted. The school administration from the players school who threw the punch have reached out to the family of our player. Much respect to them. They are a school with true class
— Chris Bogart (@cbogart25) May 15, 2023
Their seasons may have come to a screeching halt, but at least these kids appeared to learn some valuable lessons.
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