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Bearden High School baseball coach John Rice was placed on paid administrative leave Monday, according to documents viewed Wednesday by the News Sentinel in his Knox County Schools personnel file.
No documents were found in his file to outline any possible infraction by Rice or any allegation brought against him. However, Knox County Schools director of public affairs Melissa Ogden confirmed an ongoing investigation into allegations that the 35-year-old Rice, in his second season at Bearden, pushed a student.
Ogden would not disclose whether the incident in question took place in a classroom or on the baseball field at Bearden or possibly at Karns - where Rice previously was a coach. The Bearden High website lists Rice as a wellness and English teacher.
Bearden principal Dr. John Barlett and assistant principal/athletic director Morgan Shinlever declined to comment when reached by text message Wednesday morning.
Rice did not return a text message sent to him seeking comment.
Becky Wuethrich, human resources supervisor at Knox County Schools, wrote and initialed on Rice's administrative leave guidelines sheet that all meetings with assistant coaches, professional scouts and a District 4-AAA coaches' meeting will be allowed.
The coaches' meeting will be Thursday. Pro scouts have been looking at Bearden senior outfielder Lane Thomas, a University of Tennessee signee.
The timing of this investigation is hardly ideal for Bearden's baseball team. The Bulldogs (21-12, 10-3 District 4-AAA), weather permitting, were set to close their regular season Wednesday, seeking a win over Heritage to try and tie Farragut for second place in the district standings.
A win would give Bearden the No. 2 seed (behind top-seeded Hardin Valley) and home-field games Friday and Saturday in the opening rounds of the District 4-AAA tournament. Hardin Valley will also host games. The tournament uses a double-elimination format.
Rice, a 1996 Morristown East graduate, was named coach at Bearden in early June 2012 after spending eight seasons (2005-12) at Karns. He won more than 20 games in his first season at Bearden.
Jack Tate, who led Bearden to a Class AAA state runner-up finish in his third-and-final season as coach in 2012, has led Bearden during Rice's absence. Tate stepped down after the 2012 to just be an assistant again, like he had for 27 years at Bearden before becoming coach after Matt Buckner left to coach Farragut.