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Hester's removal as New Hope High baseball coach top story

 

Danny P Smith

 

Stacy Hester began the year as the head coach of one of the state''s most noted high school baseball programs. 

 

By the middle of 2009, Hester was out at New Hope High School. 

 

When Lowndes County School District Superintendent Mike Halford recommended Hester not be retained at New Hope and the school board voted 5-0 in June to accept the recommendation, it left one of the state''s most successful coaches without a team to lead. 

 

The Lowndes County School District''s decision about Hester has been selected the top sports story of 2009 by The Commercial Dispatch. 

 

Halford and the school board never gave a public reason for not retaining Hester. The issue was one of the consent agenda items approved at the beginning of the board meeting. There was no discussion about the decision. 

 

The meeting took place while Hester was in McAlester, Okla., coaching his Mississippi All-Star team in the Junior Sunbelt Classic. 

 

Hester was disturbed by the many unanswered questions and wondered why he wasn''t allowed to continue coaching the Trojans. 

 

"No doubt I feel it was a personal vendetta against me," Hester said. "Most of the people who have heard this are wondering how this happened and I need to know what really happened. How can you fire a guy for winning, forcing kids to act right, and being tough on them?" 

 

The move sent shock through the community as those close to Hester and the program tried to understand the move. 

 

One of those who spoke about her disappointment was Paula Gregory, the then-treasurer of the Diamond Club, the booster club of New Hope High''s baseball team. 

 

Gregory said Hester "didn''t deserve" not to be retained. 

 

"I just feel the people on the board used their positions to take this man''s job," Gregory said. "This is unjustified. I hate this. I hate this." 

 

Hester established a reputation of being one of the area''s most accomplished high school baseball coaches. 

 

In the past 18 years, Hester won 551 games with the Trojans. They won state championships in 1996, ''98 and 2003. The 1996 team set a national record and a state of Mississippi record for wins when it went 43-0. 

 

New Hope enjoyed a good season in 2009, which turned out to be Hester''s last. The Trojans finished 25-11 and lost to eventual Class 4A state champion West Lauderdale in the third game of the best-of-three North Half State title series. 

 

Hester wasn''t allowed to coach New Hope''s second-round playoff series against Pontotoc after an incident in April with a New Hope High player in the dugout in the first-round set against Hernando. 

 

Hester was known as a disciplinarian who believed in players doing things the right way. He didn''t apologize for putting the Trojans through strenuous practices to prepare them for games or for having high expectations for the program. 

 

Lee Boyd, an infielder and pitcher as a senior at New Hope in 2001, was hired in July to replace Hester. 

 

Just as Hester became a coach with a reputation for winning state championships, several area high schools realized that goal in various sports in 2009, including another one for the New Hope High slow-pitch softball program. 

 

The Lady Trojans captured their third consecutive state title and 12th overall by sweeping Brookhaven 10-0 and 7-5 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A title series in October. 

 

New Hope junior Haley Tutor said winning state crowns never gets old. 

 

"This is like my fourth one and it''s still exciting," Tutor said. "Just the happiness that comes to your face is amazing." 

 

On the same day at the V.A. Fields in Jackson, Hamilton High won its first slow-pitch state championship since 2004. The Lady Lions defeated Enterprise 13-4 and 15-2 for the MHSAA Class 2A title. 

 

After losing to Clarkdale in two games in the Class 2A title series in 2008, coach Lewis Earnest was proud to put a medallion around his neck again. 

 

"I have been down here so many times in baseball and softball," Earnest said. "We have won three in baseball and won one in softball in ''04 and have been back and you feel you can''t win the big one anymore. 

 

"I was glad to break that streak. I am proud of the seniors because they have worked a long time for it." 

 

In football, West Point High became a state champion for the first time since 2005. The Green Wave won 14 straight games after a season-opening loss to Shannon. They capped the run with a 35-14 victory against Wayne County in the MHSAA Class 5A title game. 

 

It was the first championship for coach Chris Chambless, who took over for Dennis Allen following the 2005 season. 

 

Chambless said the team "faced a lot of adversity" and dedicated the season to offensive lineman Tyler Wallace, who died before school started. 

 

Winning the champion was like "justice" in Chambless'' eyes. 

 

"We have been close," Chambless said. "This year felt so good to me because the guys were so focused, practiced so hard and did what we wanted them to do. We did have bumps in the road, but the focus was there and when you coached them, they responded to everything." 

 

There was plenty of excitement surrounding Mississippi State athletics. The men''s basketball team made an improbable four-day run to capture the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship and returned to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season, while the women''s basketball team returned to the NCAA tournament. 

 

Dan Mullen had ups and downs in his first season as MSU''s football coach, but he ended on a positive with a 41-27 victory against the University of Mississippi. 

 

MSU finished 5-7, but left Mullen encouraged about the future. 

 

"Finishing on a high note was fantastic," Mullen said. "It gives us a big boost going into recruiting, especially for all the in-state kids who came to see that game. I know a lot of people were saying that was a big factor in recruiting for who won that game. I think recruits have seen the excitement and the direction our program was going in throughout the season." 

 

Other top stories are: Starkville High''s Tavaris Tate winning state titles in the 100, 200, 400 meters and the 4x400 relay, Columbus boxer Henry Armstrong being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the East Mississippi Community College football team winning its first state championship.

 

 

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