MJCA coach pulls team from field with storm approaching

Andy Reed • Aug 22, 2017 at 9:35 PM

Mt. Juliet Christian coach Justin Berry pulled his team off the field over concerns of lightning in the vicinity of Smith County Soccer Complex in South Carthage on Tuesday night.

Berry said by email the Lady Saints had to forfeit the game, which began at 7 p.m., after he and trainer Melissa Todd Freeman unsuccessfully tried to urge Smith County coach Nicholas Bussell and the officials to stop the match with lightning registering 1.6 miles away and thunder clearly audible.

He said Bussell told him, “Do what you need to do, I’m playing.” Berry said Freeman spoke with Smith County’s athletic director, who also refused to stop the match, even though the school’s football practice had been stopped by lightning. Two Smith County sheriff’s deputies also urged the AD to stop the game, but were told no.

Berry then told his team to play the ball out of bounds and get off the field to shelter. Officials, looking puzzled, blew their whistles to resume play even though there were no MJCA players on the field.

Bussell told his team to resume play, saying “go put in anyways, girls. Let’s go,” Berry quoted him as saying.

The officials at that point finally stopped play with 13:57 left in the first half, Berry said.

Berry said he again asked for a weather delay as lightning was in sight, but was again denied, resulting in a forfeit.

“Safety is No. 1, no matter what the cost,” Berry said as he and his team left the field while “being mocked and called quitters by parents and fans of Smith County HS.”

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association follows lightning guidelines set by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which states,”When thunder is heard or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the leading edge of the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. Suspend play for 30 minutes and take shelter immediately.”

The policy goes on to say play is to remain stopped for 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder cloud.

The NCAA follows a similar policy, developed by the National Severe Storms Laboratory, which also recommends a 30-minute delay.

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