June 15, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Politics and coaching don''t mix.
Stacy Hester followed that credo in his dealings with parents, administrators, and players.
Sometimes it got him into trouble. Players left his program because they didn''t like playing for him. Parents thought Hester to be arrogant or unyielding in how he dealt with them or with their children.
But through it all Hester established a standard of excellence. His teams won 551 games and three state titles his 18 years as New Hope High School''s baseball coach.
It''s unfortunate Hester apparently won''t get an opportunity to win another game with the Trojans.
Lowndes County School District Superintendent Mike Halford recommended Friday that Hester not be retained as New Hope High''s baseball coach. The school board supported the recommendation with a 5-0 vote.
The move, which happened with little fanfare, like most of the personnel decisions handled by the school board, closed the latest chapter in a saga that has gripped the New Hope community for the past two months.
Hester did as he was told and fought for his job. He talked about what he thought was a "personal vendetta" against him waged by people who didn''t like him and how he treated players. He made his case as people offered rumor and insult on Web sites and worked behind the scenes to push the agenda.
It''s difficult to tell if Hester''s comments and the support members of the community showed him helped the coach''s cause or were fruitless efforts that went uninvestigated by Halford and every member of the school board.
Halford said Friday in making his recommendation he did what he felt was in the best interest of the children at New Hope High School.
I know the decision was difficult to make, especially considering Halford said Hester is a friend he has known for years.
But did the issue have to come to this?
Some will argue Hester had to go because he had become a liability and it was just a matter of time before he hurt a child.
That was a blatant scare tactic.
Others will say Hester is an "old school coach" who is used to being a bully and pushing his players too hard and saying things that aren''t appropriate.
In more than 20 years of coaching, Hester says he never hit a kid, and that he never wanted to.
In that same time, countless other coaches undoubtedly have been accused of being too tough or too strict on their players.
Were those coaches given a second chance? Did a superintendent or a principal work in those cases to bring both sides together to resolve the conflict?
Halford said Friday more than one incident factored into his decision not to recommend Hester be retained as New Hope High''s baseball coach. He said he didn''t consider things that happened six, five, or 12 years ago.
If that''s the case, why weren''t efforts made after the first "incident," which apparently happened this season, to find a resolution?
Hester was not allowed to coach the Pontotoc series after he was involved in an incident with second baseman Philip Tice in the Class 4A North Half playoffs against Hernando.
The Tice family is on record showing its support for Hester.
It''s unclear how much, if any, what happened at the Hernando game ultimately factored into Hester losing his job.
If what he did to prevent a member of his team from getting into what likely would have been a fight with a player from the Hernando team was so egregious, he should have been terminated immediately.
That didn''t happen.
It''s likely the same people who voiced their outrage against Hester for putting his hands on a player would have been angered even more if New Hope players were charged with fighting. They would have said Hester had lost control of his team.
So what transpired after that series to push things to this outcome?
I don''t know. Hester doesn''t know. None of us know because Halford and the school board members can''t talk about the issue because it is a personnel matter.
As an at-will employee, Hester could have been terminated at any time and not be given a reason.
That policy needs to be changed.
There''s no denying Hester poured his heart and his soul into his time at New Hope High. He isn''t solely responsible for building the program. But it''s difficult to say looking at all of the accomplishments recorded on the outfield wall and seeing all of the former Trojans who went on to play baseball in college that Hester didn''t build on that success.
There also is no denying Hester helped players who were less fortunate and that he gave countless hours and dollars to help the children of New Hope.
Did Hester make everyone happy doing it? No. Were his methods always approved by everyone? No.
Is it the job of a coach to please everyone? No.
I am not going to pass judgment on Hester. In my year as sports editor, I have worked with Hester many times and have seen a coach who is dedicated and passionate about what he does. He wants to win, sets a high standard for excellence and pushes his players to meet that goal every day -- whether it''s in practice or in a game.
I haven''t seen Hester berate or belittle his players. Do I believe it happened? Yes, because one parent''s berating is another''s attempt at motivation.
That''s why Halford and the school board members need to change the at-will policy. They need to find a way to make sure every coach can identify issues raised against them and be given an opportunity to correct them.
All sides of the issue need to be involved in the process to make sure common ground can be identified and everyone can work for the same goal, which is what is best for the children.
Guidelines for conduct need to be set for coaches. They need to know what they can and can''t do, and they need to know there will be penalties if those rules aren''t followed.
Hester said he never was given a "plan of improvement," or a list of things and ways he needed to change his coaching methods, in his time at New Hope High.
Whether that was an oversight or if people are unwilling to face Hester or aggravate something as influential as New Hope High School baseball, I don''t know.
I am more concerned about what is fair. I believe Hester should have had an opportunity to speak to each member of the school board and state his case.
I believe each one of the five board members should have spoken to Hester as part of an investigation to determine what was done wrong and what could have been done to fix it.
Instead, a man who cares about high standards and kids and about helping New Hope High produce better young men is out of a job and the community and teachers in the county are left wondering why, and how they might be in jeopardy if they do something "wrong."
Is that what''s best for the children of Lowndes County schools?
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.