By Stephen Hargis
Chattanooga Times Free Press
JASPER, Tenn. — Less than two weeks after the football field house at Marion County High School was vandalized, a joint investigation by Jasper police and the Marion County Sheriff's Office led to a surprising arrest Wednesday morning.
Marion County teacher and assistant football coach Michael Schmitt was arrested and booked into the Marion County Jail on charges of vandalism of $1,000-$10,000.
The sheriff's department would not confirm or deny whether other coaches on the Warriors' staff are suspected of being involved or had knowledge of Schmitt's actions, but they did say the investigation is ongoing.
Warriors head coach Mac McCurry declined to comment.
Officers involved in the investigation believe the vandalism was an attempt to inspire the Marion County football team before its game against county rival South Pittsburg, which won the Nov. 1 game 35-17.
"It is sad to say that this event gives the whole community a black eye, and the real victims of this incident are the kids from both schools," said Marion County Sheriff's Detective Matt Blansett, one of the arresting officers.
In the early morning hours of the day of the game, orange and black spray paint — South Pittsburg's school colors -- was used to write vulgarities on the side doors and along the backside of the field house as well as on a storage building and the concrete parking lot. According to Mark Griffith, Marion County schools superintendent, the damage totaled "several thousand dollars."
Trash was scattered around the field house, derogatory names toward Marion coaches and players as well as a large power "P" — South Pittsburg's logo — were painted on the buildings, apparently to make it look as though Pirates supporters were the culprits.
However, county investigators found enough evidence to arrest Schmitt, who also had been hired to coach the Warriors' baseball program. According to Griffith, Schmitt will be suspended from his teaching position while the investigation continues.
"I will give him a separation notice, letting him know he's on leave with pay pending an internal investigation," Griffith said. "He's innocent until proven guilty, so whether he keeps his job or not is pending the outcome of criminal charges.
"We have cooperated with law enforcement from the beginning, and our ongoing internal investigation will assist in that process."
The South Pittsburg-Marion County rivalry is one of the oldest and most heated in Tennessee. Both teams have proud traditions, and both entered this year's game ranked among the top three in the state. The District 6-A championship was decided when the Pirates claimed their eighth straight win in the series.
Both teams are still alive in the playoffs, with Marion County traveling to Boyd-Buchanan on Friday in a Class 2A second-round game, while South Pittsburg hosts Moore County. Schmitt will not be among the Marion staff for its game.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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