Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox chose not to suspend the Tech (Indianapolis) and Fort Wayne (Ind.) South football programs for the postseason tournament following Friday night’s brawl.
After meeting with administrators from both schools at the IHSAA offices late Tuesday afternoon, Cox suspended Tech coach Emil Ekiyor and Fort Wayne South coach Eddie Fields for one game, as well as a number of players. Two assistant coaches, one from each side, were also suspended for the remainder of the season.
Both programs are placed on probation for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season.
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“The head coach has a responsibility to make sure their team box is under control,” Cox said of the reason for the suspensions. “When you leave the team box, that really is an ejection-able offense. That needs to be discussed at the beginning of the season. Here we are in the sixth week of the season and we have a bench-clearing incident where both teams are out in the middle of the field and punches are exchanged.”
The incident made national news, almost immediately after it occurred. The brawl started when Tech running back James Gilbert was hit late out of bounds on the Tech sideline late in the third quarter. The situation continued to escalate when a Fort Wayne South assistant appeared to shove a Tech assistant, who responded with a punch. The assistants are Angelo Muhammad (Tech) and Dan Muchler (Fort Wayne South).
A handful of fans ran on to the field, as the brawl escalated for another minute or so.
Cox lauded both schools for how they’ve handled the situation in the days following the incident. Tech suspended the volunteer assistant who threw the punch immediately after it was learned. He said both schools will be meeting with parents and players on acceptable behavior in coming days.
“I’m very proud of our schools on what they’ve done so far on short notice,” Cox said.
One of the options for Cox was to suspend both programs for the postseason tournament. Cox chose not to go that route, he said, for multiple reasons. They will be on probation and closely monitored for the rest of the season.
“I would have been very easy to take both these schools out of the IHSAA tournament series,” Cox said. “But the reality of that is you affect other schools, especially in this instance where you have a 5A school and a 6A school playing in a four-team tournament. Now you have a three-team tournament and one school is going to (get a) bye into the championship game without ever playing a game.
“I’m not sure how fair that is to the remaining schools in the tournament. To that end, we are going to let them remain in the tournament, on probation, and observe them. We will have a designated person watching them every game.”
Cox will recommend a double forfeit as the result of the game. Tech led 24-6 when the game was called off. Tech hosts Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar on Saturday, while Fort Wayne South is at city rival Wayne.
Ekiyor said nine players were suspended for Tech; all nine will serve a one-game suspension this week. Three players were suspended for Fort Wayne South.
“Me getting suspended is part of me being a leader,” Ekiyor said. “A lot of things happened that night. All that we can do is make sure that it never happens again.”
Ekiyor said suspended players apologized to the rest of the team Monday at a team meeting.
“You never want something like this to happen, but all you can do is make it a learning experience,” Ekiyor said. “The last few days I think our kids have learned. Something bad happened. But something good can come from it.”
Until Friday, the most recent fighting incident locally occurred in a 2011 boys basketball sectional game between North Central and Lawrence North, resulting in player suspensions for both teams.
“High school sports are volatile and emotional,” Cox said. “For the kids, for the parents, the coaches and the school administrators. It’s an emotional environment. But you have to control that emotion and channel into positive reaction.”
Kyle Neddenriep writes for the Indy Star, a Gannett property.