Waiting game

Grade-reporting error discovered, Dragons hopeful TSSAA will reverse decision

  • A copy of a letter that was submitted to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association was released last week by Anderson County Schools. The letter from new Clinton High School Principal Robbie Herrell states that the previously self-reported ineligible student athlete was actually eligible to play football. He had been declared ineligible due to a grade-posting error.

  • Former Clinton Dragons head football Coach Darell Keith, left, outlined for The Courer News the steps necessary for a student athlete to acheive eligibility status once the stu- dent has entered credit recovery.

It turns out a Clinton High School football coach didn’t play an ineligible player after all.

Darell Keith, who led the Dragons to a 6-7 record in 2024 and into the third round of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoffs, did not have his contract renewed for the 2024-2025 school year after it was determined he had allowed a player to participate who did not have enough credits to be eligible to participate.

The student in question played in 13 games.

His transcripts showed he had only completed five courses for credit.

He needed six.

CHS self-reported the “violation” May 17.

TSSAA vacated all CHS wins for the 2023 season, required the school to notify the schools they had beaten of the vacated win, and fined the school $250.

But the student was eligible. A credit recovery course taken for government and economics was placed in the wrong year of the student’s transcript.

The Oddeseyware Credit Recovery Program course was successfully completed during the 2023-24 school year, meeting the requirement to be eligible.

However, credit for the course was placed under the 2022-23 school year.

A letter dated May 10, 2024, (though it should have been June 10, 2024) from CHS Principal Robbie Herrell to the TSSAA explaining the error was released last week.

“As you can see from the attached transcript, the student had five credits listed for the 2023 school year. This is what the self report was based on,” the letter said.

Herrell went on to explain how the government and economics course was completed, but listed in the wrong place on his transcript.

“Please note that the dates of completion are 5/15/23, which are proof that he completed and earned credits for six classes,” Herrell’s letter concludes.

TSSAA has not responded as of yet.

The Anderson County School System, when asked what impact this might have on the status of Keith, replied, “The Anderson County School District will not be commenting on theoretical verdicts before they have made a decision.”

In an interview over the weekend, Keith said he holds no ill will.

“They did what they did because they thought it was in the best interest of the school at that time,” Keith said.

He noted that when he first heard the student in question was “ineligible,” he was surprised.

“I thought, ‘This kid?’ I really didn’t understand how that was possible,” he said.

Another allegation aimed at the coach last spring when a grade- changing scandal broke at CHS was that he had asked a teacher to change a grade of a student.

During the school system’s investigation of the matter, teacher Rachel Jones, who was in charge of the school’s credit recovery program until the 2023-24 school year, said Keith had asked her to change a grade for a student and even, on his own volition, had then CHS Principal Dan Jenkins sign off on it.

It’s an accusation Keith denied.

Keith outlined the process he follows with his players.

It starts in the summer when he and then-athletic director Nate Martin would go over the standing of the kids going out for football.

Martin left the co-athletic director position at CHS and was named as athletic director at Clinton Middle School. He has since resigned from the Anderson County School System.

“If there is a problem, we start addressing it then,” Keith said.

During the season, every Monday was like a “status day,” he said.

“We check and see if the kids are passing. We look at e-mails. We’re working that roster,” he said.

“And maybe we see a kid struggling and we know this guy right here can’t play,” he said.

If that’s the case, the player is off the varsity roster until he gets his grades corrected.

“We had five kids last year? It may take a quarter of the season, but they don’t play until they’re eligible,” he said.

Keith explained that if a kid is failing English, then he gets into the credit recovery program. He does the work, takes the course and then tests again. If he still hasn’t achieved a high-enough score, he does it again.

And again, if needed. He does the process and the work until he brings his score up.

Only then is he eligible.

“You take it until you pass,” he said. And he said he follows their progress. “I see the grades,” he said.

The ordeal during the last few months has been a two-sided sword for Keith.

“I haven’t been this hurt since the Army,” he said. “But it’s been more positive than negative.

“I have had more love from Clinton since this happened. Just the amount of love and support and prayers,” he said. “Beautiful things grow out of ashes.”

Keith also has high praise for CHS teachers.

“They work under such high duress; they’re heroes,” he said. “They do more with less and they are the unsung heroes.”

So, what’s next for Keith?

He’s like the kids he coached for four years, like the teachers he worked with — he describes them as resilient. And Keith is, too.

“I harbor no ill feelings,” he said. “As for what’s next? Only time will tell.”