Vicksburg awaits MHSAA penalties today

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, October 23, 2012

CLINTON — Nerves were frayed at Vicksburg High as the football team awaited its fate from the Mississippi High School Activities Association following last Friday night’s game-ending brawl with visiting Murrah.

MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton said the organization will issue its decision on the penalties today.

Hinton said a whole spectrum of penalties are possible.

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At stake are the final two games of Vicksburg’s season, including this week’s River City Classic with Warren Central.

The Gators (1-8, 0-5 Region 2-6A) went back to work Monday afternoon for the Warren Central game despite the cloud of possible sanctions that could end their season.

“It’s been stressful,” Vicksburg senior linebacker Shaquan James said. “The past 72 hours have been even more stressful on me because my family was involved in the accident on I-20 while going to check on Coach (Tavares) Johnson.”

Vicksburg head coach Tavares Johnson collapsed during the fracas that happened with 11:22 remaining in the game. He was taken to River Region Medical Center and given a series of tests. He was released on Saturday morning at 1 a.m. and has remained at home recuperating.

Whether the Gators football team can make it out of the fracas ordeal remains in question. Hinton said his executive council must sort a lot of things out, but he did outline the possibilities:

• Hinton did not rule out suspending both teams for the last two games of the season.

“When it’s serious enough to call the game, we’ll look at if there needs to be a suspension from the team standpoint,” Hinton said.

• Neither school’s football program is on probation with the MHSAA and neither has any prior offenses. Future infractions, however, could be cause for removal from the postseason. Hinton also didn’t rule out multiple-game suspensions for both teams and individual players.

• The punishment for both teams could linger into next year. Penalties might include the loss of preseason scrimmages and season-opening classic games. For Vicksburg, that would mean not playing in the 2013 Red Carpet Bowl at Memorial Stadium.

“There is a probationary status that goes with those penalties that will carry over into next year, I’m sure,” Hinton said. “They may not be allowed to participate in preseason scrimmages or their jamboree, or maybe even that first classic game. And if anything else occurs, such as playing an ineligible player, they could be removed from postseason play next year. There could be some 2013 and ‘14 consequences.”

• Any underclassmen who are suspended for more than two games will have those suspensions carry over to the 2013 season. Hinton said to distribute longer suspensions for seniors — including those involved in other sports — would be left to each school’s discretion.

The possibility of suspending a team’s season still looms large.

“If we determine that it’s the majority of the team, a big number, then the game could be suspended. We could suspend them one game, two games,” Hinton said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever suspended them the rest of the season, but here we are with two games left. There could be suspension of ballgames, one or two games since that’s all they have left.”

For Vicksburg players, students, administrators and fans, a big concern was how Johnson was injured. Hinton said the game films supplied by both schools were inconclusive and that Vicksburg Police have not contacted the MHSAA about a criminal investigation.

“In speaking to the coaches and both athletic directors, we don’t know what happened to the coach (Johnson), and we’re not sure he does either,” Hinton said. “He was in the number of players from Vicksburg that was moving down that sideline. I did ask were there any (Vicksburg) players that wanted to volunteer any information that somebody from Murrah had done something. But nobody has volunteered any of that. You can see him (Johnson) for a point, then he just disappears in his own players, really. The only thing we see is in the end, when there’s four or five standing around him. We’re high school video. We don’t have those four or five shots like ESPN has.”

Hinton did give praise to the Vicksburg Police Department and Vicksburg High’s security management staff for stopping the fracas.

“From what we could see on the video, Vicksburg had plenty of security,” he said. “There was no fan or spectator involvement, and that was really good. On the video, we can see security visible. That helps as far as the school is concerned. They’re there, maybe they were able to dissolve the conflict faster because of that.”

Hinton also said the game would remain a 57-42 victory for Murrah. The Mustangs (5-4, 2-3) remain in the hunt for a playoff berth going into this week’s scheduled road game at Jim Hill. But forfeits resulting from possible suspensions would eliminate the Mustangs.

“Unfortunately, it ends up being a forfeit if they don’t get to play the next game or next two games. There’s teams playing that maybe it’s their home game and there’s financial things involved,” Hinton said. “But again, our first consideration is about our students and student-athletes, and their understanding of the reason we play sports, and what we’re teaching them. We will not tolerate misconduct on or off the playing field. We work real hard with the civility aspect of sports and activities, and these appear to be some very uncivil actions at the end of that ballgame.”

For James, the Mustangs deserved to be punished more than the Gators and said the officials should be held accountable as well.

“The game got out of hand,” James said. “They were throwing punches from the first quarter. And, the officials didn’t catch the Murrah running back throwing a football at one of our players. You could tell they couldn’t take the pressure we were bringing to them after we got it (the lead) down to two scores.”

Vicksburg junior lineman Steve Cooper said the team will have to live with whatever punishment is handed down.

“It’s up to a board now on how much we get handicapped for the next game or if we get suspended for the season,” Cooper said. “I want to play the next game for our seniors. I hope they let us play. This whole thing has brought us together as a team.”