Columbus North Head Coach Tim Bless has been suspended from coaching during games for the remainder of the football season.

That additional discipline, announced Friday night by the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., was the result of a physical altercation that occurred between Bless and an assistant during the Oct. 13 varsity football game at Southport High School.

Jason Perry will be Columbus North’s interim coach for games played throughout the state football tournament, which begins Oct. 27 for teams in Class 6A.

However, Bless will be able to return to team practices starting Monday.

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Assistant coach Aaron Karrer, who was involved with Bless in the altercation, will serve a one-game suspension Oct. 27, as previously announced.

Additionally, a support plan — with personal and professional requirements regarding the altercation and/or additional concerns shared with BCSC — has been created and implemented for each coach, school officials said. Adherence to the mandatory support plans will be reviewed and monitored for compliance on a bi-weekly basis, according to the school district’s statement.

A group of top Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. administrators met Thursday afternoon, with conversations continuing into Friday, to examine photographs of the in-game altercation between Bless and Karrer. The discussions were to determine if initial punishment set for the coaches was just, Superintendent Jim Roberts said.

Participating in those discussions were Roberts, Columbus North Principal David Clark, North Athletics Director Jeff Hester, Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Teresa Heiny.

The initial discipline, determined Monday after an investigation by Clark and Hester and a recommendation from the two high school administrators, was then approved by Roberts.

That decision, announced Tuesday morning before the existence of photographs of the altercation were known, called for Bless and offensive line coach Karrer to be suspended for the team’s next game, the sectional tournament opener Oct. 27 against Jeffersonville. Additionally, Bless was suspended from football team activities this week.

The verbal and physical altercation between the two coaches occurred on the team’s sideline after the first play of the second quarter of the 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.

Karrer apologized for his actions during a meeting with North players after practice Tuesday, the first time players and coaches were together after the game.

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

“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.

At 12:06 p.m. Friday, Bless emailed a statement to The Republic, apologizing for his actions of a week earlier.

“My conduct at last Friday’s football game was unacceptable and for that I am remorseful and embarrassed,” said Bless, who is in his 18th season as the Bull Dogs’ head coach, and who this season became the school’s all-time winningest coach.

“To the young men who are a part of our program and the Bull Dog family, I apologize to you for this conduct. My actions that evening did not represent the values we as a program expect. I am sorry for my actions toward my colleague Aaron Karrer, who is like a brother to me, for the negative attention placed on our school and corporation and for being a poor ambassador to the game of football,” continued Bless, who has coached with Karrer all 18 years of his time leading the Bull Dogs.

“More than anything, I am sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family,” he said. “We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support received from so many, and I am very appreciative of their forgiveness. I understand the emotions of my critics and am hopeful that they too can find forgiveness. I am resolute to grow from this experience. Ultimately, I am a sinner saved by His grace; and for that am eternally grateful.”

The previous day, before the BCSC administrators began taking a second look at punishment for the coaches, a group identified as North football captains and senior leaders issued a statement on social media in support of their suspended coaches.

The statement, posted at 7:44 a.m. Thursday, a minute before the start of the school day, was on a Columbus North football Twitter account, It said:

“We the players of the 2017 Columbus North High School football team fully support our head coach, Tim Bless, and our assistant coach, Aaron Karrer. While their actions on last Friday were inexcusable, we believe this incident should not take precedent over their many years of profound leadership, personal development and character building of young men. Like any family, there will be disagreements. However, also like any family, we forgive and embrace each other despite our misunderstandings. Football is a passionate sport and our coaches are very passionate. Coach Bless and Coach Karrer genuinely care about each and every player on the team. One mistake should not take away from the many hours these two coaches have poured into our lives on and off the field. The Bull Dog family is ready to accept our leaders back with open arms and move forward.”

The statement ends with Scripture from the Bible, Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and passionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Two North High School athletics department staff members contacted by The Republic did not know who controls the Twitter account where the players’ statement was made but said it is not the high school’s football booster club.

The North captains were identified by a staff member as Logan Abbott, J.D. Harris and Noah Earl. A fourth captain rotates each week.

Investigation steps

During their initial investigation, Clark and Hester, who were at the Oct. 13 football game, talked to adults who were close to the situation — assistant coaches and others on the football staff. They thought they gained a clear enough picture of what happened that obtaining statements from players wasn’t warranted, Clark said.

When Clark and Hester 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 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, the superintendent said.

The coaches’ full-time 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.

The 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.

Incident timeline

Oct. 13: On the first play of the second quarter of North’s regular-season finale at Southport, the Bull Dogs 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.

Oct. 14: North Principal David Clark and Athletics Director Jeff Hester, who investigated the altercation, met with Bless and Karrer, who confirmed that verbal exchanges included profanity, and that they were involved in a physical altercation, Clark said.

Monday: A decision on punishment, recommended by Clark and Hester, and approved by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts, was made. It called for Bless and Karrer to be suspended for North’s next game, the Oct. 27 sectional contest against Jeffersonville. Bless also was suspended from football activities this past week.

Tuesday: The school district released a statement announcing the suspensions. In part, it read: “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.”

Thursday: A team of five top school district administrators — Roberts, Clark, Hester, Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Teresa Heiny — meet for several hours to review and discuss new evidence, a series of photos of the physical altercation. They adjourned the meeting without any new action.

Friday: Discussions among the same administrators continued. At day’s end, the suspension of Bless from coaching the North football team was extended through the end of the season. There was no change in the one-game suspension initially given to Karrer.