June 14, 2009
Stacy Hester is still confused, and now he apparently is out of a job he loves.
On Friday, Lowndes County School District Superintendent Mike Halford recommended Hester not be retained as New Hope High School''s baseball coach.
None of the five school board members asked to have the issue of Hester''s status pulled from the consent agenda, where it could have been up for an open vote.
The board then voted 5-0 to accept Halford''s recommendation.
Hester said at 2:35 p.m. Saturday, while coaching his Mississippi team in a game against a team from Texas in the Junior Sunbelt Classic in McAlester, Okla., that he hadn''t spoken to Halford or anyone on the Lowndes County school board who officially told him he hadn''t been retained as New Hope High''s baseball coach.
He said New Hope High Principal Lynn Wright, who recommended Hester be retained as the school''s baseball coach, called him to say he was "sorry."
"No doubt I feel it is 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 and forcing kids to act right and being tough on them?"
Hester said three or four people told him earlier this week the superintendent wanted him back. But he said he couldn''t get a straight answer from very many people about his status, which left him wondering Friday if he still would have a job.
He hopes the decision about his coaching job doesn''t affect other coaches in the county.
"How does any coach in this district expect to have success when they don''t know what to believe?" Hester said. "I was told several conflicting things and I hear it and I wonder, ''Where did that come from?'' "
Hester said he never woke up every morning intending to get on players publicly or privately. He said he isn''t going to apologize for his high expectations of his players and for putting them through strenuous practices to prepare them for games.
Hester said the Trojans work so hard in practice to do things the right way that he gets frustrated when they aren''t able to execute in a game.
On Friday, a group of people that included Hester''s daughters Jennifer Ball and Neely attended the school board meeting to listen to discussion of the issue or to make comments.
Halford''s recommendation not to retain Hester was one of the consent agenda items approved at the beginning of the meeting. As a result, there was no discussion, which surprised several people who attended the meeting.
"I just feel like the people on the board used their positions to take this man''s job," said Paula Gregory, who is the treasurer of the Diamond Club, the booster club for the New Hope High baseball team. "Only one person on the board talked to Stacy Hester. Everyone else took statements from parents. This is unjustified. I hate this. I hate this."
Gregory said Hester "didn''t deserve" not to be retained and that she thought a decision on his status would be made at the board meeting, not what in her estimation was done before the meeting.
Mike Smith, a former Lowndes County supervisor, agreed with Gregory the issue wasn''t handled the right way. Smith, who lives in New Hope and who has watched the New Hope High baseball program since 1982, said an investigation needs to be done on both parts of the issue.
He emphasized Halford is a very close friend and he respects his opinion, but they disagree on this issue. He said Hester gave 18 years of his life and did everything in his power to help the community come together behind a successful baseball program.
"I think (Halford) has made the wrong decision, and the board also," Smith said. "They haven''t given the public any reason for the decision. It is a disgrace. ... I wanted more discipline in the school. The parents and the teachers talk about doing discipline and then we have a coach who tries to do discipline and he gets fired for it. It is totally wrong."
Smith doesn''t feel Halford and the board have a reason for not retaining Hester as New Hope High baseball coach. He said people can highlight negative things Hester might have done in 18 years, but he said people also need to look at all of the positive things he did and all of the players who graduated from the program. He said many of those kids went on to play baseball in college, and even more learned important life lessons.
"This is a sad day for sports and coaches all over," Smith said. "Where do they stand? My thinking is the board is so concerned about getting rid of these people, why aren''t they concerned about putting some kind of policy in place?"
Smith said regulations need to be put in place to prevent this from happening to another coach. He said guidelines have to be given to coaches, principals, and administrators on how to handle these situations and to coaches so they know when they need to change their coaching methods.
Chris Herring, who played for Hester at New Hope in 1992 and ''93 and who has a nephew, Philip Tice, on the current New Hope High baseball team, helped organize a meeting last month for people who supported Hester. The gathering at New Hope High attracted more than 200 people, which gave Herring reason to believe Hester had a chance to retain his job as the school''s baseball coach.
Unfortunately, things didn''t turn out that way, and Herring believes the decision was made before Friday''s board meeting.
"We need to understand we''re the ones voting these knuckleheads in for us," Herring said. "It will be something to think about the next time the campaign comes around. We put our trust in these people to do the right thing, but I think (Hester) was railroaded. The more I find out I think it was a done deal before we started rallying for him."
Hester said he would entertain any options in the area that allowed him to continue to coach. He also said he would be OK if he was finished with coaching. He said he plans to continue to teach driver''s education and to drive a school bus at New Hope High.
"God is going to carry me through," Hester said. "I am not the best Christian. I am a Christian who knows God has a plan for everybody."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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