A decision on the status of McClain High School graduate Joe B. Stewart being replaced as head basketball coach was tabled Monday, April 26, at a Greenfield School Board meeting.
No one was scheduled on the agenda to speak to the board. However, board members and superintendent Quincey Gray called for a mid-meeting executive session for personnel matters, with Stewart joining them at one point. The executive session lasted just over three hours. Upon coming back into open session, no action was taken.
Ryan Olaker, who was in attendance, was listed on the agenda to be considered for employment as boys head basketball coach. But following the executive session, all board members, with the exception of Sandy Free, voted to table that consideration.
Stewart requested, but was not allowed to speak during the open session of the meeting that several members of the community attended in apparent support of Stewart.
“I appreciated Mrs. Gray and our board listening and hearing my heart on the issue of continuing at my alma mater and my mind about proposals to keep our program moving ahead into the future in a way that our community can feel good about,” Stewart said Wednesday.
Prior to Stewart returning to coach at his alma mater, McClain went nine straight seasons without posting a winning record in boys varsity basketball. Under Stewart, McClain has gone 37-30 with two winning seasons in three years.
That nine-year losing streak was shock, because McClain went 472-170 from 1981-82 to 2008-09 under former coach Rick Van Matre.
“It was in this gym 59 years ago that I fell in love with basketball,” Stewart wrote in a prepared statement, speaking of the Buckskin gym. “In 1974 my high school coach became my role model. That coach and my McClain education became the catalyst for fulfilling my dream to be a coach and hopefully make a difference in young people’s lives.
“Three years ago my wife and I were warmly greeted by the board of education as I assumed leadership of Tiger basketball. Our plan was to emphasize core values, install a cutting edge system of play, and provide an education by a caring coach on and off the floor. Time and time again we emphasize ‘be your brother’s keeper’ and we see that exhibited behind me tonight. The results have been extremely rewarding and frankly, quite obvious. By every measure of success and significance, we believe we have delivered something special to our school and community.”
Stewart said that on April 20 he received a board-mandated coaching evaluation from the Greenfield athletic director. He said that in 31 years as a head coach he has received 14 evaluations, and that like the 13 previous ones, he was pleased to receive high marks during the most recent evaluation.
“Surprisingly, at the conclusion of that meeting I was given a message — ‘the district would be going in a different direction’ — and that I would not be offered a contract for next year. In light of our success and significance, I found such a statement to be very confusing and unfair.”
Stewart said he loves most aspects of coaching, but hates a few including: cutting team members at the beginning of a season, replacing a hard-working predecessor, making coaching staff changes, determining playing time and who should play (junior-varsity), and defending coaching staff members regarding employment.
“In my three years here I have made these decisions as they are a part of my job description and in so doing feelings get hurt. For that I am truly sorry,” Stewart said.
“Our athletic website states: ‘The McClain athletic focus will be the student athletes. All decisions made and considerations taken will be with the young people at McClain in mind.’ Facts and what is best for these kids is not being followed in this decision,” he added. “I ask our board of education and superintendent to look for the good that has resulted from McClain basketball during my watch, put hurt and personal feelings aside, and make a professional decision to grant me the opportunity to remain in our School of Beauty building…”
Angela Shepherd, a correspondent for the Greenfield schools, contributed to this story.