Nelson Co. superintendent, principal, parents of girls basketball team meet over coaching change; coach, assistant told "resign or be fired" over incident

Kentucky Standard, Bardstown, Jan. 20, 2017

Parents voice concerns about how coach’s succession was handled
Nelson County Schools officials say ‘clean break’ with former staff was necessary
By Peter W. Zubaty

Nelson County Schools officials said Wednesday they wanted to make a “clean break” with the remaining assistants from former NCHS girls’ basketball coach Kelly Wood’s staff, which led to the decision not to promote assistant Jason Clark to head coach.

Nelson County High School principal Shelly Hendricks and Nelson superintendent Anthony Orr met with parents of players from the girls’ basketball team Wednesday at the school in a 90-minute meeting closed to the media, fielding questions about why NCHS elected to tab Jacqueline Coleman to take over the program in the interim in the wake of Wood’s resignation last week, and the speed in which the transition occurred.

Wood and longtime assistant G.B. Walls stepped down last week after receiving a “resign or be fired” ultimatum from school officials following a coaching disagreement that led to a physical altercation between the two coaches on the bus after a road game Jan. 7.

Orr said Coleman — an experienced girls’ basketball head coach at East Jessamine and Burgin who was already employed at Nelson County High School — was not interested in being the long-term coach, and offered to help out the program for the remainder of the season. Nelson County’s girls are 16-2 on the season, ranked just outside the state’s top 20, and among the favorites for the 5th Region championship.

Orr said Hendricks explained during the meeting that she wanted the remaining assistants — including Clark, who team parents felt should have been promoted — to remain on board as assistants and have a chance to apply for the head-coaching position for next season.

“We wanted a clean break. … I knew there would be people who disagreed with that, but we knew it was a reasonable position to take,” Orr said. “The message that comes through very clearly is (the remaining assistants have) got the support of the parents.”

The open position is expected to be posted in the next two months, ideally around the time of the girls’ Sweet 16 basketball tournament, which is in mid-March.

Orr said he understood the emotions involved with the parents and players about the decisions school officials made in bringing Coleman and new assistant Trevor Mason on board in the middle of a season. He said parents expressed concerns at the meeting about how quickly NCHS moved in making the change to Coleman, rather than promoting Clark, who has been involved with the program for years under Wood.

“The thought was we knew we’ve got a special season going, and we didn’t want to leave that hanging over the girls’ heads,” Orr said. “That was the best decision we could make at that point. … We wanted to get the girls thinking about the games and not who’s going to be head coach.”

Wood has a daughter, Madison, a sophomore, on the team, and said he attended the meeting in his capacity as a parent. He said it was a “pretty rough deal” for the players and that he hopes the Cardinals can “hold it together” emotionally and reach their season goals of winning the 5th Region tournament.

“If I could fix the mistakes, I would,” he said. “I made a mistake.”

However, Wood cautioned school officials that the way they handled things in the wake of his and Walls’ suspension and later resignation would lead to “trust issues” among the team, and that the regime change was “micromanaged” by the district office.

“They wanted a complete separation — I don’t understand that,” Wood said, indicating that he thought promoting Clark, affectionately known as J-Rod, would bring continuity and stability for the players. “They did J-Rod really wrong.”

Wood said he felt bad for Coleman and the difficult situation she has entered into, and that he has turned over his playbook to her.

Orr said Clark and any of the remaining holdovers from Wood’s staff — David Simpson and Jamie Hodges — would have the opportunity to apply for the position once it is posted.

“Everybody wanted to express their respect for J-Rod,” Orr said. “Ms. Hendricks and myself as well.”

Orr said that parents were assured at the meeting they would be “part of the process” of selecting the next head coach. By the meeting’s end, Orr said that while not everybody agreed with the direction taken by school administration, all those who attended were in consensus that everybody wanted to do right by the players on the team.

“None of us like what has happened, but we all agree we’re trying to do what’s best for the girls,” he said.

Nelson County hosts Adair County on Friday as part of a girls-boys doubleheader, with the girls’ game starting at 6 p.m.

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