Supreme Court to Revisit High School Recruiting Case

Brentwood Academy Headmaster Curtis G. Masters, left, and ex-football coach Carlton Flatt. The school is in a legal battle with Tennessee's athletic association that is finding its way to the Supreme Court for the second time. The 10-year case began as a recruiting-violation fine.
Brentwood Academy Headmaster Curtis G. Masters, left, and ex-football coach Carlton Flatt. The school is in a legal battle with Tennessee's athletic association that is finding its way to the Supreme Court for the second time. The 10-year case began as a recruiting-violation fine. (By Donn Jones)
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. -- High school football is serious business in Tennessee, and especially at Brentwood Academy, one of the winningest schools in the state.

So maybe it should come as no surprise that a legal tussle between Brentwood and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association has stretched into a 10-year court battle that will go to the Supreme Court Wednesday for the second time.

The association says it is about keeping high school football pure. Brentwood is alleging violation of free speech.

What started as a $3,000 fine for a recruiting violation -- the school's legendary coach sent a letter to some eighth-graders inviting them to spring practice -- has cost the two sides an estimated $5 million in legal fees. Besides its two trips to the Supreme Court, the case has drawn the attention of a federal judge (twice), a federal appeals court (three times), and the Clinton and Bush administrations.

And while using the First Amendment to fend off a football recruiting charge seems novel, the school is on one of its enviable winning streaks. In six stops on the journey through the federal judiciary system, the score stands:

Brentwood Eagles 5, T-Double-S-Double-A 1.

TSSAA v. Brentwood Academy is one of those cases on the court's docket that illustrates how a small, seemingly inconsequential event can burst into a sprawling epic almost unrecognizable even to its participants.

Brentwood Headmaster Curtis G. Masters remembers being told when he took the job in 2000 that the school had a case that might, but probably would not, make it to the Supreme Court.

"The part I can't get over," said Ronnie Carter, executive director of the TSSAA, "is that we had a 10-day trial in federal district court about high school football."

A Goliath in High School Sports

Brentwood Academy's low-slung campus of gleaming buildings sits off Granny White Pike, which once might have been as homey as its name but now is lined with gigantic mansions whose long driveways end in four-car garages. Former farmland surrounding the Nashville suburb sprouts Land Rover dealerships and trendy Mexican cantinas.

The nondenominational Christian prep school's recent $10 million expansion produced a state-of-the-art theater and sumptuous space for choral and band practice (this being Nashville, the percussion instructor is the drummer for the country group Sawyer Brown).

There is a 10,000-square-foot weight room, with its own track. A Bible verse from Philippians counsels those who enter -- "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" -- and the stuffed trophy case across the hall testifies to BA's outsized athletic success.


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