Football coach suspended through 2012 for “Benchgate”

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Officially, there is no stipulation for where a coach of one team must stand or sit when scouting a future opponent in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools handbook. A San Antonio (Texas) Central Catholic assistant coach recently challenged that theory, watching part of a future opponent's game from a prime location … alongside their bench. The fallout since has been extraordinary.

First, Central Catholic defensive coordinator John Jennings was kicked out of the game between San Antonio (Texas) Antonian Prep and San Antonio (Texas) St. Anthony School. When he left, Jennings was confronted by the Antonian athletic director, who then collaborated with his staff to file an official report against the Central Catholic coordinator.

The incident -- which some in the San Antonio media have taken to calling "Benchgate" -- was first reported by the San Antonio Express News, which included a photo taken by an Antonian student that shows just how close Jennings got to the Antonian sideline. As you can see right here, the Central Catholic assistant was almost close enough to overhear the team's sideline huddles.

Days later, a TAPPS board handed down one of the most drastic measures in recent Texas prep sports history: Jennings is to serve a suspension for the rest of the 2011 season and the entirety of the 2012 campaign. Central Catholic head coach Chris Roberts was also handed a probation for the remainder of the 2011 season, though he will not have to miss any time on the sidelines.

"We feel that he was a little bit overzealous and made some people uncomfortable," Roberts told San Antonio news network KENS 5 of his assistant's behavior at the Antonian game. It was one of those deals where we've got kind of a gray area in scouting. There's a gray area. When you get into TAPPS, what we're all learning and finding out is that when you go scout, there's not a designated area like there is in the UIL world.

"The press boxes aren't as big. Everything tends to be a little bit small, and so you go by the policies of the stadium and the procedures that they have. As everyone knows, at Antonian you're allowed to walk around the field and walk on the track in kind of a free flow, and that's kind of what happened."

As one might expect, that is not at all how Antonian officials categorize the incident.

"That's not an excuse," Antonian football coach Van Fuschak told KENS 5 of Roberts' 'gray area' defense. "Holy Cross, St. Anthony, every one of them have bleachers. If you're going to scout, you can stand outside the track. We've got a fence here they can stand outside of.

"But when a team is playing, I don't care what league it is, you don't stand right next to the team that you're playing. When they're right behind you in your players' box, then I think that crosses the line."

Clearly, Jennings stepped over a line. The question seems to be just how clearly defined a line that was. While there may not be an official delineation on how far back a coach must stand from teams during a competitive event, TAPPS officials clearly determined that skulking around a future opponent's bench was far too close for comfort.

It seems as if even Jennings is willing to admit that now, though he will have to pay a steep price and sit aside for longer than many would have imagined for one Friday night mistake.

"Central Catholic has had a flawless record in its sixteen-year history as a member of TAPPS and a long standing history of maintaining the highest level of integrity and sportsmanship in our athletic programs," Central Catholic principal Ed Ybarra told San Antonio NBC affiliate WOAI. "We take responsibility that a rules violation occurred, whether intentional or not, and support the decision."

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