Was there lightning? TSSAA investigates claim Smith County coach didn’t stop game

(Photo: WKRN)

There are 2 videos inside this story. Click here to see both from the News 2 app.

SMITH COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is investigating after reports a Smith County coach refused to stop a soccer match when lightning was nearby, so the team’s opponent forfeited the game for the students’ safety.

It was one game, but there are two very different accounts of what happened.

Bernard Childress, Executive director of the TSSAA, opened an investigation into last night’s soccer game between Mt. Juliet Christian Academy and Smith County High School Wednesday morning.

Childress told News 2 that so far, he has spoken with one of two TSSAA officials who were at last night’s game to get their perspective on the situation.

“We are still in the process of getting written reports from them. The one that we talked to is saying that he didn’t hear anything, nor did he see anything,” said Childress.

That account of what happened lines up with Smith County’s stance that it did not believe students were in danger.

Mt. Juliet Christian argues they had a lightning detector and tried to stop the match because they heard thunder. They say their lightning detector registered lightning 1.6 miles away.

“Right now I am getting two conflicting stories and we have got to get to the bottom of what actually happened,” said Childress.

Officials from both sides sent News 2 statements about the incident.

Dr. Mike Lee, head of Mt. Juliet Christian, said, in part, “The decision our coaching staff made on Aug. 22 was in the best interest of MJCA students and families and we support that decision.”

Smith County’s Director of Schools Barry Smith says, in part, “I have investigated the incident involving the soccer game last night with Mt. Juliet Christian. After speaking with the principal and athletic director, I stand behind my coaches and administration.”

The director of the TSSAA told News 2 if a thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning, the teams are required to suspend play for 30 minutes and take shelter immediately.

Meteorologist Davis Nolan looked into what the weather looked like at 7 p.m. Tuesday near the soccer complex just south of Carthage along Highway 25.

At that time, StormTracker was showing 14 strikes of lightning during the previous 15 minutes near the county tine, and one strike about 9 miles northeast of the location.

StormTracker only shows cloud-to-ground, or ground-to-cloud lightning, so it’s possible there was a cloud-to-cloud lightning strike that could create thunder as well.

But either way, what do you do if lightning and thunder are approaching while you’re at a ball game?

We’ve always told you that you should try to get inside a building, but a lot of ball fields don’t have a building that can facilitate a large amount of people.

But we bet you drove your car to that event, and your car is one of the safest places you can be during a thunderstorm. If you are in your car with the windows rolled up, lightning could strike the roof or the hood of your car, and the electricity would travel around you and into the ground.

Also, while you are headed to a building or car, try to avoid fences and backstops that are so common at area ball fields.

Last year, there were 39 fatalities from lightning in the United States, and so far this year there have been 13.