Saturday, March 21, 1998
Withrow coach assaulted him, Aiken coach says

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Withrow's George Jackson coaches his team to the regional title Friday night.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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A coaching feud involving two high school boys basketball powers boiled over Friday when Aiken High School coach Eric Thomas accused Withrow's George Jackson of bruising his neck in an assault.

Thomas demanded Jackson's suspension from Friday's regional championship game, alleging Jackson clotheslined him after Aiken's 63-60 overtime loss to Withrow Wednesday at the University of Dayton Arena.

But after Jackson summoned his lawyer to UD Arena Friday night in case he got arrested, he directed Withrow to Ohio's final four with an 88-71 victory over Dayton Colonel White, his 253rd victory at Withrow.

Thomas, who claims Jackson has tried to destroy him since he took over Aiken two seasons ago, said he'll press charges and sue. He said about 30 witnesses back his story, ranging from Aiken principal Jack Schroeder to a fan sitting four rows behind the Aiken bench.

They allegedly saw Jackson run past Thomas' outstretched hand after the game and give him a forearm to the neck as he sprinted past.

But other witnesses, such as Western Hills coach Lannis Timmons, said Jackson hit Thomas accidentally when Thomas moved his hand up while backing up from Jackson's handshake.

''Basically, he hit me upside the head,'' Thomas said. ''It scares me to wonder if he lost what would have happened.''

The Cincinnati Public Schools District is conducting an investigation and superintendent Michael Brandt said he hopes it's finished before Withrow's next game on Friday.

The University of Dayton Public Safety Department, which could file an assault charge, is also investigating.

''If there was any contact at all, it was purely accidental, and I think that coach knows that,'' said Ken Lawson, Jackson's lawyer. ''George is a man of high character, a God-fearing man. Why would he do it after he won? These allegations are based on (Thomas') goal of preventing George from coaching in this tournament. It stems from pure jealousy.''

The incident came two weeks after Thomas alleged Jackson threatened to put his fist in Thomas' mouth while both were at a tournament game at Miami University. Thomas denied the feud is rooted in charges of recruiting.

''I've heard they've verbally insulted each other, but I'm not aware of any physical violence before,'' Brandt said.

Thomas went public because Cincinnati school officials didn't respond after meeting with Aiken representatives Thursday.

''My principal announced to me he visually viewed exactly what happened,'' Thomas said. ''There are two dozen to 30 statements clearly defining what happened . . . How more credible can you get than your principal? . . . It bothers me that 48 hours later nothing has been done.''

But Brandt said there wasn't time to complete an investigation before Friday's game. Robert Morgan, the district's chief of security, sent investigators to the game.

Brandt expects to get the report next week, then make a recommendation to the school board with input from Withrow.

''I'm not going to be put in the position of preventing anyone from getting due process,'' Brandt said. ''And we're doing it right away by going up to Dayton and asking people what they saw. It's unfortunate Mr. Thomas doesn't think that's quick enough.''

Thomas, who complained of tightness in his neck, said he went to Good Samaritan Hospital after the game and was told he had a severe cervical bruise.

In Thursday's letter to Brandt, Thomas said videotape ''easily will confirm this assault,'' but Morgan said he was told neither school had the incident on tape.

''A clear and precise message must be sent that physical violence will not be tolerated by district employees,'' Thomas wrote.

Thomas, an Aiken assistant for six years before becoming the head man at Taft High for two years, said his problems with Jackson began only when he returned to Aiken.

''I've got my theories, but I don't want to speculate,'' Thomas said. ''Some of those theories involve a player or players. No (it's not about recruiting).''