With 4:33 remaining on the scoreboard clock Saturday evening, the brawl broke out.
While it is not unusual for combatants in a high school basketball game to engage in what is delicately called “extracurricular activities,” it is rare to see a coach led from the melee by uniformed police officers.
But that is exactly what fans saw Saturday evening at Chapmanville Regional High School in the Nationwide Insurance Basketball Classic. Arch rivals Logan and Scott were hooked up in an intense battle where Scott had mounted a furious comeback. The scoreboard also told fans that Logan was ahead, 43-40.
As to the score and the time remaining, there is no doubt. As to details of the brawl, different folks saw entirely different things.
Being a Harts Creeker myself, I have the luxury, however, of viewing an amateur video of the game taken by a Harts resident. Although the entire game was videotaped, there are clear pictures of the fight. There is no doubt in my mind, after watching it three or four times, what caused the events that transpired later in the evening. But even facts can be disputed as to what caused them and what the motives were.
Nevertheless, here is what the film shows: the brawl was going on with virtually both teams struggling on the floor or nearby. Police officers from the Town of Chapmanville and Logan County deputies rushed out to separate players. Then, the coaching staffs of both teams appear on screen, rushing to the melee themselves.
What follows is not disputable but it is prime for discussion.
Nobody will disagree, I think, that Logan Head Coach Mark Hatcher was attempting to get his players out of the battle. He was pulling and tugging on them, just as his assistants were doing. The Scott coaches were doing the same thing with their student/athletes.
Sometime into calming the battle, a Chapmanville police officer was working to separate the two combatants on the floor in front of him. The officer appears to kneel down in an effort to separate the pair.
That is when “it” happened. “It” being the incident that is open to interpretation.
Clearly, on the video and live and in person as I was, Hatcher reaches toward the two players. As he does so, however, he “pulls” or “shoves” the policeman out of his way. The officer immediately springs toward Hatcher, after apparently being knocked off-balance by Hatcher’s “push.”
Other officers from the Chapmanville town force and the deputies grab Hatcher. For a moment, it appears one is moving his arms in an effort to handcuff him. The fiery Logan coach, screaming profanities and threats, then basically goes back to his bench under police escort.
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Reporters and fans at the game seemed more interested in which players would be ejected rather than showing concern about Hatcher. Some clearly booed the coach, who is not a favorite of either Scott or host Chapmanville. He mouthed some more, eventually heading into the corner where the officers had gathered. His father, CRHS Head Coach Allan Hatcher, appeared to be somewhat involved in the discussions.
It was obvious that Mark Hatcher was unhappy; but so too was his counterpart from Scott, Nick Cabell. Cabell and his assistants attempted to tell referees that “number 21” started the brawl with a punch to a Scott player. From watching the video, I also believe that is more or less what started it after the players fell to the floor attempting to rebound. But fault could be placed on several players for the melee.
After lengthy discussion, one Scott player and one Logan student/athlete (NOT number 21) were ejected. Both coaches let it be known that they were unhappy with the outcome but the game finally resumed.
Hatcher appeared for all intents and purposes to be totally involved in the game and nothing more for the remaining four minutes. As his Logan squad wrapped up a victory, he clapped and seemed as relieved as Wildcat fans.
The Scott and Logan teams exchanged handshakes when the game ended and, for some, it appeared the activities had ended for the night. Those folks were very wrong.
Hatcher did not make it to his team’s locker room for any post-game pep talk. When a reporter walked in and asked where the coach was, his players unanimously reported, “he got arrested.”
On the floor, I was being bombarded by panicked fans who kept asking, “Did they arrest Mark Hatcher?” For once, I had to report that I didn’t know.
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When the other reporter approached me and told me what Logan players had said, I immediately responded, “then I’d better find a policeman.” The only officers remaining in the gym, where a large contingent of Chapmanville town and Logan county officers had been standing previously, were deputies.
The first briskly kept on walking when I inquired, “were any arrests made as a result of that fight?” He muttered that he is not permitted to speak to the press. The second deputy was equally determined not to report anything but not nearly as obnoxious about it.
Eventually, the second deputy did say, “you’ll have to talk to the sheriff or the Chapmanville police chief, they’re the ones making the arrest.”
THAT, of course, confirmed that an arrest was underway.
So I went sprinting across the parking lot to the Chapmanville town offices. As I entered the building, a Logan assistant was near the front door. The only open door with lights on I saw was located to the left, where the town police offices are located. I started down that hallway.
Just as I approached the open door, it was suddenly and abruptly shut. Loud voices could be heard coming from within. I stood around, waiting for the door to re-open. Occasionally, I would also walk back to the gym to hear the latest rumors.
When someone in the stands told me “Judge O’Briant just showed up over there” I hurried back to the police department. Don’t ask me who was updating the fans as to the goings-on across the street. I saw nobody standing anywhere and watching the building.
In any event, when I got back to town hall, the loud voices were still being heard behind the closed door. I THOUGHT one sounded like Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant, who is Mark Hatcher’s step-father. But I did not personally SEE the judge.
At another point during the Chapmanville-Liberty (Raleigh) game that followed Scott-Logan, CRHS Head Coach Allan Hatcher left the bench. Fans in the stands again reported that HE had gone to the Chapmanville police department.
Whatever happened, by the time I made my fifth or sixth walk to the PD, a Chapmanville town police car was gone and there appeared to be nobody in the building. The knowledgeable fans told me Chapmanville police had taken Mark Hatcher to the Southwestern Regional Jail at Holden for processing. Later, one deputy told me virtually the same thing. His comment was that,”you won’t find any Chapmanville policemen now because they’re over at Logan processing the arrest.”
THE arrest. As of early Sunday afternoon, it is not certain that THE arrest was actually made. Hatcher returned a cell call from me around midnight. He clearly did not APPEAR to be in jail making his ONLY phone call. He refused to talk about the incident, constantly telling me he wanted to talk “only about how proud I am of my players and the game.”
But a Hatcher supporter, who insisted the policeman started the pushing match and also used profanity in talking to Hatcher, admitted the coach “was arrested but it might not go through.” The fan asked me to “hold off” on reporting the incident.
But shortly after 1 p.m., Sunday, Charleston’s WCHS-TV reported that Hatcher had, in fact, been arrested on assault and battery charges against a police officer. They cited a member of the Chapmanville police department as their source. Surprisingly, I never got an answer to repeated calls to the PD.
Logan’s Sheriff Sonja Porter told me she did not think her deputies were “involved in the arrest,” more or less confirming that Hatcher had been charged.
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While we will discuss the reasons for the episode shortly, I am always perplexed when police officers attempt to hide their charges against someone. They often act as though all members of the media are their sworn enemies. As I told one, the only way we have of reporting what happened is to hear it from someone in authority.
Why Chapmanville and Logan County officers didn’t want to discuss the thing is open to conjecture.
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Also open to debate is why and how the charges came about. There is no doubt, as I said earlier, that Hatcher was attempting to break up the fight. He was struggling to get his players away from the pandemonium. Up until he pushed the police officer, he was doing only what all coaches routinely do in such an event.
Hatcher calls what he does “protecting my players,” which I suppose it is. But that does not give him license to push a member of law enforcement.
Still, in the heat of battle, people often do uncharacteristic things. Perhaps the coach did not even notice that the man in the way of him reaching his player was a cop. I am confident Hatcher just wanted to get the last of the battlers out of the fray.
But, I repeat: nothing justifies touching a policeman in an unkind manner. Hatcher did that Saturday evening. Some say there was some sort of feud already underway between the coach and officer. Maybe so; maybe not. Others say Chapmanville authorities hate Hatcher because he represents Logan and were “out to get him.” Still, nobody MADE Hatcher push the officer. He is his own worst enemy here.
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I LIKE Mark Hatcher. Always have; always will. He is a tremendous talent as a coach, leading his team to state championships during his tenure. But he is not above the law, even if his stepfather is a circuit judge. His supporters asked me to “give this time to play out,” and I’m willing to do that. But sometime, somewhere, the people of Logan County deserve to see that justice is meted out regardless of who the offender is. Perhaps this is that time.
We’ll see ….