Stacy Hester is confused.
For 18 years as New Hope High School baseball coach, Hester has tried to run a program based on respect, discipline, and accountability.
The numbers reflect his success.
The Trojans have won 551 games, three state titles, six North Half state championships, and have reached nine Final Fours since 1995.
But all of that is in jeopardy.
Hester said Lowndes County School District Superintendent Mike Halford told him Friday he wouldn’t recommend he be retained based on a poll he took of the five members of the Lowndes County School District Board, who appear ready to vote 5-0 not to have Hester return as the Trojans’ coach.
The school board could vote June 12 to determine Hester’s fate.
“It is not fair and right I am going to be given the pink slip and I really haven’t been given a good reason,” Hester said. “What is the reason? Because I make people mad? I want to go into why I coach the way I coach. I am an aggressive coach, I expect you to do things, to work hard, to have class, to be on time. Those times seem like in this county that they are not important anymore.”
Hester said Halford told him Friday he would not be rehired because he didn’t control his kids and that he was ejected from game three of the Class 4A North Half State title series against West Lauderdale.
The home plate umpire confined Hester to the dugout in that game for arguing balls and strikes.
LCSD Board President Dr. Robert Buckley said Saturday he couldn’t comment on the situation because it is a personnel matter. He directed calls to Halford, who also declined comment for the same reason.
School board member Jane Kilgore could not reached for comment.
School board member Bobby Barksdale didn’t return a telephone message left at his house Saturday afternoon.
School board members John Clark and Jacqueline Gray declined to comment because it is a personnel matter.
Halford, who like the school board members are elected, said the school board approves the hiring and decides to renew or not to renew employment for school teachers and coaches. He said superintendents typically make recommendations to ask coaches back or to let them go. He said athletic coaching positions are at-will agreements and are separate from teaching contracts.
In this case, Hester said New Hope High Principal Lynn Wright, who didn’t return a call left Friday on his voice mail, has recommended he return next season as baseball coach.
Hester believes that should mean something, especially considering he feels he has apologized and has been punished for his involvement in an incident with second baseman Philip Tice. Hester said he grabbed Tice to remove him from a possible altercation with a Hernando player that could have resulted in his team being disqualified from the playoffs. He moved Tice, who was ejected from the game, to the edge of the dugout, but Tice tripped on the top step, causing them to fall into the dugout.
Hester said he didn’t know Tice tripped going down the steps in the dugout. The momentum forced them into the wall of the dugout and made Tice’s shirt tail came out of his pants, which caused Hester’s arm to slip up toward Tice’s throat.
As a result of the incident, Halford didn’t allow Hester to coach in the Pontotoc series, which New Hope won to advance in the Class 4A North Half playoffs.
The Trojans (25-11) lost in three games to West Lauderdale in the best-of-three North Half State title series.
But Hester said Friday that Halford told him the Hernando incident was not the reason he was not being recommended back.
Hester said Halford told him he didn’t want to tell him the news Thursday before the team’s postseason banquet because he didn’t want him to be upset before the event.
“I got my punishment, which was not justified,” Hester said. “The principal wanted to put me on probation. He said coach, I know what you were doing to protect your team. The superintendent never understood that. By that time, you have the school board president (Dr. Robert Buckley) listening to his wife (Amy) and they’re all going crazy now.”
Hester said there has been plenty of things said behind the scenes that have fueled the move to remove him as coach. He believes an incident with Amy Buckley at a game at Houston earlier in the season might have been a spark.
Earlier in the year, Hester said he had a conversation with Buckley, who didn’t return a message Saturday, in which she said she didn’t like him using the word “stupid” when he talked to his players.
In the game against Houston, Hester gave a player a squeeze bunt sign twice and he missed it both times. That morning, the Trojans had worked on a special sign to indicate when Hester wanted to put the squeeze play on. The player struck out, stranding runners at second and third base.
Before the player went out to the field, Hester called him over and said, “That was stupid.”
Hester said Buckley, who was sitting in the stands, jumped up and said, “I told you not to say that word.” He said she started to holler at him from behind the fence, and continued to do so after he went to the bench. He said he then came out of the dugout and told Buckley, “Hush, woman. Hush.”
Jennifer Ball, Hester’s daughter who is married to New Hope High assistant baseball coach Chris Ball, said she wasn’t sitting with Buckley but they met each other when she went to take her daughter, Olivia, to the bathroom.
“She walked up to me and said, ‘Jennifer I love you and your family, but you know how I feel about your dad saying that word and it is f – – – – – – on.’ I just stood there and didn’t respond and walked off.
“My first thought was that that was very disrespectful to me being his daughter.”
After the Houston game, Hester said Buckley made up lies that he had twisted the player’s head and that he had said all of these other things to him. He said he spoke with the player’s parents the next day and apologized for the incident. But he said Buckley took it upon herself to be the person who was going to make his life miserable for the next few months.
“It seems like this whole thing has been a case to embarrass me because of how I have made people mad over the years,” Hester said. “I have had people dislike me because of a conflict with their child. They’re the ones — the Hester Haters — who are calling and sending e-mails because they are the ones who want to get momentum to get me fired. I go through this every year because you make people mad every year. We are in a society now where they listen to it, and now we have a board that’s acting on it.”
Hester said he never has tried to please parents. He said his concern is getting the most out of his players every day.
“We practice extremely hard, and I try to get my kids to practice like they’re going to play,” Hester said. “When kids can’t do it in the game and they’re not putting the time in at practice, it makes me upset because I expect perfection. All of this is tied together. If I just threw out the balls and said, ‘Let’s play a little bit,’ and don’t practice on Saturday, don’t play on Saturday, don’t come up here and work hard, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
“On the flip side, I would get on myself because we’re not winning. I take more pride in the fact we win and I make people mad instead of not winning and making everybody happy. They think I should be the nice guy and the perfect coach. That doesn’t happen if you really care about your kids. I would much rather my kids get mad at me but respect what we’re doing and see it down the road, this is what he was really all about.
“I have kids who respect me but their parents don’t respect me. Even 10 years ago kids who played for me respect me because they know what I was doing. I coach kids, not parents. It should be up to the coach. That’s why it bothers me when they say I am a threat to a kid. Then why I am teaching driver’s education with kids in the car all day? Then why I am I still allowed to drive a bu
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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