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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
Dan Casey dan.casey@roanoke.com 981-3423

Did you see the story last week by my colleague Robert Anderson about Christiansburg High? The tantalizing elements were coaches, moonshine and the girls basketball team, which over Christmas break played in a tournament in South Carolina.

On the surface it's easy to imagine how those ingredients could spawn a scandal, followed by the booting of the head coach and his assistant. They were in fact forced out of their jobs. But the facts are far more banal.

On the way back from the tourney, the team stopped at a shopping center. A few players went into a clothing store. Assistant coach Pete Hudson and his wife walked into a liquor store and bought a bottle of legal, taxed moonshine they'd seen on a reality TV show about moonshiners. He called it a souvenir.

They put it in the trunk of Hudson's wife's car, which none of the players rode in. The bottle remained sealed. Neither coach drank alcohol during the weekend. The school did not sponsor or fund the trip. The vans the players rode in were not school-owned.

The players were aware of the purchase, however, because the coaches had talked about it in the context of the TV show.

All of the above is what Anderson gleaned by interviewing both coaches, who have full-time jobs outside the school system, and one player.

After they returned, word got around about the purchase of "moonshine." Hudson was fired, via letter. Head coach Dallas St. Clair said he resigned when he was told he would be fired during a Jan. 3 meeting with the school's principal, athletic director and human resources director.

In Montgomery County schools, firing is the most severe of six levels of discipline that can be meted out to school employees.

What was the offense here? That remains unclear. Tuesday I spoke with Brenda Drake, the spokeswoman for Montgomery County Schools.

"The coaches have decided to make it a public matter, but that does not negate the responsibility on our part to maintain the confidentiality of personnel records," she said, in explaining why nobody in the school system would talk to me about this.

I asked her: If I could persuade the coaches to sign a release, allowing the school officials to talk about the case, would they?

No, Drake replied. And that's entirely understandable.

Based on what's out there, the decision to can the coaches was poorly thought out, to put it mildly. Any attempt to justify it might be even more embarrassing for the schools.

Drake sent me the coaches handbook, the employees handbook, the school board's disciplinary policy and the employees code of ethics. Among those, I could find no explicit policy violation.

The coaches handbook notes that coaches shall refrain "from using tobacco products, alcohol, or inappropriate language" when supervising students. That's the closest thing I could find to any kind of violation. But the coaches didn't drink.

The ethics policy states staff shall "maintain personal and professional behaviors that demonstrate positive role modeling for students, colleagues, and the education profession." Did they violate that?

We don't know. But in its worst light, if buying legal liquor - or talking about it around students - is an ethical transgression, the rest of the school system's employees should take careful note.

Last year, we learned about another controversy involving an assistant volleyball coach - at Salem High. It seems he had shown an unusual interest in at least one player on the team way back in 2007. He did a lot of texting with her and invited her out to dinner repeatedly. She said he showed up at her house, alone, with $200 worth of gifts for her 16th birthday.

This behavior unnerved the girl and her parents, who complained to school administrators. The outcome of that was quite different. The unpaid assistant remained coaching at Salem until 2011.

His name is Dewayne Barger, which may sound familiar. In December, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for unrelated crimes. Barger secretly recorded videos of other teenage girls - showering in his apartment's bathroom and changing uniforms in a church fellowship hall. The latter group he coached on a club team.

So what we have here is Salem schools under-reacting to complaints about Barger's highly questionable conduct in 2007. Meanwhile at Christiansburg High, it seems they're over-reacting to coach conduct that's neither illegal, unethical nor even highly questionable.

In other words, there seems to be a gulf of inconsistency in how potential misconduct is judged and the punishment meted out for it. Why is it so hard for schools to get this stuff right?

It seems more likely the alcohol issue was a pretext to get rid of two part-time coaches whose team had a 1-11 record. St. Clair, who was assistant coach last year when the team went 9-14, told me he was under "constant parent pressure."

"This season was the most stressful season of my career," he wrote me in an email. "I was stopped before practice, daily negative comments, and players telling me that so and so's parent wants you fired. [Players] said 'they are going to do everything they can to get you fired coach.'"

If a poor record is the real reason they were forced out, Montgomery County schools simply ought to indicate that. Because right now there's a different sort of cloud hanging over both coaches.

 

January 16, 2014

 

 
 

 

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