Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials will meet today to examine photographs of an in-game altercation between two Columbus North High School football coaches to determine if the punishments levied against them are appropriate.

Head coach Tim Bless and offensive line coach Aaron Karrer have been suspended for the team’s next game, the sectional tournament opener Oct. 27 against Jeffersonville. Bless also has been suspended from football team activities this week.

A verbal and physical altercation between the two coaches occurred on the team’s sideline after the first play of the second quarter of Friday’s regular-season finale at Southport, when North missed a field goal.

Photos of Bless and Karrer, captured by freelance photographer Greg Jones who was covering the game for The Republic, show the two coaches in each others’ faces and with their hands on each other’s upper bodies.

Story continues below gallery

After seeing the photos, North Principal David Clark said he was disappointed for the coaches because of the impact of their actions.

“Everybody has to take responsibility for their mistakes. I preach that mistakes happen,” Karrer said when addressing the North football team after practice Tuesday.

“Character reveals itself. It’s what you do moving forward from that mistake. It was a mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. It was wrong,” Karrer said.

Karrer and Bless did not return phone messages from The Republic on Wednesday requesting comment on Friday’s incident.

Clark said he, Superintendent Jim Roberts, Athletics Director Jeff Hester, Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Teresa Heiny will participate in today’s meeting to review the photos and discuss a possible message to the student body.

During the meeting, Clark said they hope to determine if the photographs change initial thoughts on the coaches’ punishments, and, if so, how.

They would also discuss possible next steps.

In addition to examining the photographs, school officials will discuss whether the issue should be discussed with the student body, and if so, how, Clark said.

“Now that we have photos, we will evaluate those and make sure what we announced as our decision is most appropriate, and we will continue to have dialogue,” Roberts said.

Investigation steps

Clark and Hester led the investigation of the incident, but Roberts, Jensen and Heiny were brought into the process, he said.

Hester and Clark were at the game but did not see the altercation occur.

Clark said they talked to adults who were close to the situation — assistant coaches and others on staff — and thought they gained a clear enough picture of what happened that obtaining statements from players wasn’t warranted.

When they met with Bless and Karrer on Saturday the coaches confirmed that the incident included profanity in the verbal exchanges and the physical altercation, Clark said.

The superintendent said from information that was gathered, the altercation stemmed only from an in-game issue.

“Comments from one, comments from the other, a verbal exchange and then physical,” Roberts said.

Based on his experiences with the coaches, Clark said the altercation was out of character for both.

The principal used a term Tuesday — a “hiccup” — to describe the incident. But that wasn’t meant to minimize what happened, borrowing a term from his generation to describe when a person had a problem.

The incident was serious, Clark reiterated.

“It’s not something we want to see happen again, with any of our employees,” Clark said.

The principal said he and Hester discussed a range of punishments, and what comparable situations might be, to arrive at an appropriate discipline.

The situation didn’t seem to warrant termination for either of the coaches, Clark said.

Clark and Hester recommended the suspensions for the coaches, and Roberts said he approved their recommendation.

Bless received a stronger punishment than Karrer because he has a higher level of authority as the head coach, Roberts said.

The coaches’ jobs with the school — Bless is a health and physical education teacher and assistant athletics director, and Karrer one of three deans of students whose duties include student discipline — were not affected by the suspensions. Roberts said that’s because football is an extracurricular activity so the punishment was applied to that role.

Similarly, if a student is involved in an altercation in an extracurricular activity, the student receives punishment in that activity. However, if a student was was involved in a fight while in school, for example, a suspension from school would be likely, Roberts said.

Based on the information at hand when the punishments were decided, school officials did not characterize the incident between Bless and Karrer as a fight because no punches were thrown, Roberts said.

“But we believed it was inappropriate and believed they needed to suffer consequences,” the superintendent said.

However, the punishment was made before photographs came to light that captured the incident and illustrated what transpired.

School officials knew there had been a verbal and physical altercation, and that no punches had been thrown, but they didn’t have any visual evidence to examine, Roberts said.

After Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. released a statement about the incident late Tuesday morning, it learned about the newspaper’s photos of the incident, Roberts said.

No known video of the altercation exists for school officials to review, the superintendent said.

No police report was filed either.

Perry Township Schools’ police department provides security at the Southport home football games, and officers were alerted to the incident between the two North coaches on the team’s sideline, chief David Stalcup said.

Officers patrolled North’s sideline to prevent any further incidents. No police report was filed or additional action taken by the officers, Stalcup said.

The notices Bless and Karrer received about their punishments did not reference a particular section from the school’s code of ethics policy, but Roberts said the suspensions were as a result of the verbal and physical altercation that occurred.

Expectations

“We expect our coaches to model appropriate behavior and our coaches failed to do that,” Roberts said.

The superintendent has been outspoken publicly against domestic violence and the need for men to be good role models, and the school corporation also has pushed its anti-bullying policy to ensure student safety.

He said domestic violence and bullying have specific definitions that he didn’t believe apply to this incident.

However, Roberts said generally that men have to do a better job representing themselves on the job and in the community.

“It was an unfortunate situation on the sidelines,” Roberts said.

Reactions

Roberts and Clark said they have received a mix of reactions to the punishments. Some have said the punishment was too light, while others said it was adequate.

Reactions to the altercation have varied widely on social media, too.

Columbus resident Marita Johnson Burton posted on Facebook that she thinks both coaches should lose their jobs. When contacted later, she explained it’s because the coaches didn’t set a good example for the kids and school.

“If we’re going to allow that kind of behavior out of grown adults, it sends a message to the students that we’re allowed to do anything and you’re not allowed to,” she said when interviewed.

Jason Addis, a 2003 North graduate who played football and was coached by Bless and Karrer, posted on Facebook that the coaches have had a positive impact on the lives of many young men and that he hopes they can heal the wounds and move forward.

When contacted later, Addis said he doesn’t think the coaches should be terminated, even though many people have posted comments on social media asking for that action.

“Their legacies as coaches, on students, as leaders and as fathers shouldn’t be defined by one occurrence. I’m hoping that is not the case,” Addis said.

“Even men we hold in highest regard have moments of weakness,” he said.

Addis, who lives in Avon, said he never saw any conflict between Bless and Karrer when he played for them in 2000, 2001 and 2002, so he was shocked to learn of the incident.

Columbus resident John Piatkowski contacted The Republic by email and said that while he doesn’t condone the coaches’ behavior, he was disappointed in the story about the altercation. He said it was in poor taste to publish the pictures “of this otherwise minor event.”

Piatkowski said, unfortunately, the coaches will be tried in the court of public appeal.

“How different the story would’ve been if it would’ve been an opportunity to teach our children about conflict resolution and working through extreme difficulties (as in how life really works) and how working with someone after disagreement is actually better for open lines of communication, trust, respect, and understanding,” Piatkowski said.

Republic Sports Editor Ted Schultz contributed to this report.

Pull Quote

“Now that we have photos, we will evaluate those and make sure what we announced as our decision is most appropriate, and we will continue to have dialogue.”

— Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts

Incident in review

The Columbus North football team played its regular-season finale Friday at Southport.

On the first play of the second quarter, North missed a field goal. After the play, a verbal and physical altercation between North head coach Tim Bless and North offensive line coach Aaron Karrer erupted.

Police were called to the sideline to ensure that no other altercations occurred.

After an investigation of the incident, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts approved a recommendation of suspensions for the coaches.

Bless and Karrer are suspended for North’s next game, the Oct. 27 sectional tilt against Jeffersonville. Bless also is suspended from football activities this week.

The school district released a statement about the suspensions Tuesday. After the statement was released, photographs came to light that illustrated the altercation.

School officials will meet today to discuss the photos, and if the punishments levied were appropriate, and whether a message to the student body needs to be sent.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.