Earl Epps

Ringgold Youth Sports Association President Earl Epps voices his displeasure with the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, Sept. 19. (Catoosa News photo/Adam Cook)

Catoosa commissioners Tuesday night updated the county's policies on using athletic facilities and also handed down a one-year probation sanction against Ringgold Youth Sports Association President Earl Epps.

Both issues stem from a six-month-long dispute over Epps' alleged misuse of gym facilities, which ultimately led to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe over the summer.

In April, county officials claimed they received complaints that Epps was running a separate league outside of RYSA. They ultimately yanked his access to the Poplar Springs gym while they sorted out the allegations.

While the GBI investigated the matter, dozens of Catoosa County youth basketball players associated with Epps' "Thunder" teams were denied access to county gyms as well.

The allegations included claims that Epps was running the separate league for his own benefit, dictating who could use the gym, publicizing the Poplar Springs Gym as "Earl Epps Gym," and that gym property was damaged on his watch.

The District Attorney's Office ultimately found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Epps; however, the county decided to revamp its policies and procedures in attempt to streamline how the facilities will be used moving forward.

During Tuesday night's commission meeting, Epps again voiced his displeasure with the situation and the imposed probation.

"Probation is meant to study someone's character or their abilities," Epps said. "I've been doing this, my role in the county volunteering for 20 years probably or so. Y'all need to evaluate that. I've watched so many criminal actions take place at our facilities, at our gyms, at our ball fields, in our league, and I've never seen our commissioners try to come down on any parent, any coach, or any one of us like this. If y'all want to put me on probation, what law did I break? They did an investigation. ... What county policy did I violate? There's none."

Epps said what bothers him the most were accusations that he verbally abused players and used racial slurs while coaching.

"I would run 1,000 kids through this door that would contradict that statement," Epps said. "That is the most ludicrous thing I've ever seen in my life said about me. It's just disturbing."

County Attorney Chad Young says the new policies will make sure gym usage will be the same for all the recreation leagues.

"This resolution to adopt the updated policies and procedures governs everything from how they streamline and formalize the registration process so everybody uses the same process, how we make sure that officials are paid and documented, and how we handle things such as concussion protocol and safety policies," Young said.

As far as Epps' probation, Young outlined the detailed terms of the sanction.

"This probation doesn't prohibit Mr. Epps from using county facilities. It doesn't even limit him from using from using county facilities. He has the same right to use them like every other citizen under the rules that you adopt," Young said. "Essentially there are six separate conditions of his probation, starting with he cannot advertise any county facilities including the Poplar Springs Gym to be his facility. He's required to use county facilities and abide by the rules you've adopted. He's required to follow the same rental policies, he's required to repair any damage that he may do or that teams under his jurisdiction and control may do, and he's required to comply with all registration and scheduling requirements. As long as he abides by these terms, he can use these facilities like anybody else."

If Epps fails to comply with the stipulations in the probation, he could be subjected to further action including the suspension of his privileges to use the gym altogether.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.