The North Carolina High School Athletic Association will have the final say on whether the Golden Tornadoes are playoff eligible after four Fairmont starters — Charlton Townsend, Luke Hunt, Silas Oxendine and Naim Bellamy — were ejected for fighting.
A melee broke out at midfield after Bellamy was shoved to the ground by a Lake View offensive lineman in the victory formation at the game’s final horn. Bellamy’s retaliation began a chain reaction that included several players from both sides. All four ejected Golden Tornadoes must sit out this week’s game against Wilmington Ashley and next week’s battle with Jones.
“We apologize to our fans for having to see something like that,” Hunt said. “After Naim got pulled down it just got out of hand. Lake View was playing dirty all night and I guess we just got tired of it.”
Fairmont coach James Atkinson says additional suspensions will be handled “in-house” but a decision won’t be made until the NCHSAA delivers its final ruling.
Atkinson met with his coaching staff Sunday night and is challenging the governing organization's ejection clause. Fairmont has sent video of the incident to the NCHSAA, footage that Atkinson says reveals only two players actually throwing punches. He’s hoping ejections for two other linemen are downgraded to disqualifications which would renew Fairmont’s playoff eligibility.
“We’re at a wait-and-see point right now,” Atkinson said. “I’m doing everything in my power to get two of those ejections thrown out because there’s no grey area with the NCHSAA. According to the handbook, we’re ineligible for the playoffs since four kids were ejected.”
Under NCHSAA rules, if a team has three or more players ejected from a game for fighting in the same incident, or six for any reason during a season, it is not eligible for the state playoffs. In an email response Sunday afternoon, Que Tucker, deputy commissioner of the NCHSAA, says her office will determine Fairmont’s final postseason eligibility when they return to Chapel Hill from a national meeting on Wednesday.
“Not even Roger Goodell has rules this serious,” Atkinson said. “There’s two kids I can’t even vouch for because punches were thrown, but it’s unfortunate that the actions of all four players may have affected the playoffs for 40 other kids. It seems unfair.”
Fairmont coaches noticed the game between nearby rivals getting out of hand early in the second quarter and made it known to officials. Four personal fouls were called during the contest, two against each team.
“We did everything in our power to prevent that fight from happening,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been told by two different official crews that we’ve got disciplined kids and that don’t change overnight.”
Last season, Freedom High School in Morganton was banned from the postseason after having five players ejected during a fight against Chase. The Patriots were ranked No. 8 and 9-1 overall when the decision was made.
“Hopefully, with a little perspective from our side and the film, we’ll be all right,” Atkinson said. “We’re not going to change our approach. If we’re still playoff eligible come Friday, we’ll try to win a state championship. If not, we’ll try to win out. Our goals don’t change.”