The head football coach at Columbus North High School and one of his assistants have been disciplined for a sidelines fight that erupted between the two during Friday’s football game.

Head coach Tim Bless and offensive line coach Aaron Karrer have been suspended for the Bull Dogs’ next game, the team’s Oct. 27 sectional tournament opener against Jeffersonville, as the result of a verbal and physical altercation in the regular-season finale at Southport, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. announced Tuesday.

The two coaches have worked together for all 18 years Bless has been at the helm of the Bull Dogs program. Karrer, a North alum, was one of the first three assistants chosen by Bless to build his staff in 2000.

Besides their coaching roles, Bless is a North High School health and physical education teacher and assistant athletics director, and Karrer is one of three deans of students at the high school whose duties include dealing with student discipline.

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Their daytime roles are not affected by the suspensions, North Principal David Clark said.

The altercation between the two happened shortly after North missed a 30-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter Friday night against Southport, which lost to the Bull Dogs 28-14.

Greg Jones, a freelance photographer who was covering the game for The Republic, said he saw the incident on the sidelines from about 20 yards away.

Jones said the tone and volume of a verbal outburst caught his attention and prompted him to turn around and start taking photographs.

Someone yelled, “It’s my team to coach!” or something to that effect, said Jones, who said he did not know initially who else besides Bless was involved.

Images of Bless and Karrer, captured by Jones, showed the two coaches in each other’s faces with their hands on each other’s upper bodies.

Football game security staff members hired by Southport High School, alerted to the fight, remained on the North sideline afterward, Jones said.

“BCSC has high expectations for staff and students, and Columbus North encourages a positive atmosphere set by coaches, officials, fans, and other athletes,” the school district said, in part, in a written statement issued by Larry Perkinson, employee and student assistance coordinator, announcing the suspensions of the two school district employees.

“While winning is a natural goal in the pursuit of excellence, the principles of good sportsmanship and enjoyment of competition take precedence at all times and enhance the educational value of all contests,” the statement said.

Besides missing the team’s next game, Bless has been suspended from football team activities this week, Clark said. But unlike Bless, Karrer has been allowed to continue his coaching duties this week, the principal said. Bless will be allowed to return to his on-field duties with the team next week.

Jeff Hester, the school’s athletics director, who interviewed witnesses with the high school principal on Friday, described what he thinks happened between the two.

“It’s two competitive coaches that got wrapped up in the moment,” Hester said. “They’re both guys that I respect and care for deeply, and they got caught up in the moment. Football can be a very emotional game.”

‘They had a hiccup’

While not condoning their behavior, Clark referred to the physical altercation between Bless and Karrer as a hiccup.

“I respect the guys,” Clark said. “I work with them. They had a hiccup. We’ve shared that we don’t believe in that (fighting), and that’s the reason why there’s a suspension.”

Clark said he and Hester were on the sidelines Friday, as they normally are for football games, but were talking with Southport administrators at the end of the field when the altercation occurred.

Clark said they did not witness the flareup between the coaches, who were near midfield.

After talking to witnesses and discerning what happened, however, Clark said he and Hester decided against removing the coaches from the field.

Karrer addressed the Bull Dogs team at the end of Tuesday’s practice, the first since Friday’s game, and apologized for his actions.

Bless, who last month became the all-time winningest football coach in Columbus/Columbus North history, did not return a telephone message Tuesday requesting a comment.

Hester said the decision to take the disciplinary steps was made by administrators Monday, which was a scheduled day off of practice for the team.

North offensive coordinator Jason Perry is leading North’s football practices this week and will be the acting head coach in next week’s game against Jeffersonville, Hester said.

Perry addressed the team privately after practice on Tuesday.

IHSAA ‘satisfied’

The Indiana High School Athletic Association was notified of the incident between Bless and Karrer at 9:10 a.m. Monday by Hester, said Robert Faulkens, an IHSAA assistant commissioner who oversees football, wrestling and baseball.

“He told me there was an altercation between two coaches, a physical altercation,” Faulkens said.

Because the incident is a school personnel matter, the IHSAA doesn’t get involved and lets the school handle any discipline, Faulkens said.

The IHSAA would only step in if an incident involved a coach and a referee or opposing coaches, for example, he said.

“They’ve done what they’re going to do, and we’re satisfied,” Faulkens said.

Incidents such as this between coaches are rare, Faulkens said.

In his seven years with the IHSAA, this is only the second incident between coaches that Faulkens said he has been brought into.

“This is so out of the realm of anything we deal with,” he said.

Clark said Bless and Karrer acknowledged their roles in the altercation and were forthcoming about the incident.

Clark said as far as the school is concerned, the investigation has been concluded.

“As long as the coaches were forthright, there’s nothing more to investigate,” Clark said. “One of the things that we can’t forget is that we are an educational institution. They’re entitled to due process. (But) they’re ready to get everything behind them and move forward.”

BCSC statement

The following is a statement from the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., issued by Larry Perkinson, employee and student assistance coordinator, about Friday’s incident between two Columbus North High School football coaches:

“During the first half of the Southport football game, two coaches, Tim Bless and Aaron Karrer, had a verbal and physical altercation on the sideline. As a result, suspensions have been issued, and both coaches will miss the next football game. BCSC has high expectations for staff and students, and Columbus North encourages a positive atmosphere set by coaches, officials, fans, and other athletes. While winning is a natural goal in the pursuit of excellence, the principles of good sportsmanship and enjoyment of competition take precedence at all times and enhance the educational value of all contests.”

Tim Bless

Name: Tim Bless

Occupation: Teacher, assistant athletics director and head football coach at Columbus North, where he has worked since 2000.

Education: University of Indianapolis, bachelor of science degree, 1994, grduating cum laude

Coaching record: 133-89 overall, including 121-80 in 18 years at North. Prior to arriving at North in 2000, Bless coached for two years at Paoli.

Aaron Karrer

Name: Aaron Karrer

Occupation: Dean of Students (one of three), Columbus North High School; assistant football coach under head coach Tim Bless since 2000, moving up from the Northside Middle School to be one of the first three assistant coaches hired to work with Bless.

Education: Columbus North graduate, 1992; played on the North football team and represented the South that year in the North-South High School All-Star football game. Indiana State University graduate, 1997, with a degree in art education.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.