Concerned resident addresses Crenshaw County BOE regarding Mitchell coaching dismissal

Published 2:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Lapine resident and “Reinstate Jonny Mitchell at Highland Home” Facebook group creator Jessica Evans addressed the Crenshaw County Board of Education, but no action was taken regarding her remarks during a meeting held Monday evening.

Evans questioned why Mitchell, who guided the Highland Home Flying Squadron boys basketball team to within three points of a state title game appearance, was fired from his coaching duties after he voiced concerns and complaints via email to Highland Home Principal Gary Coleman on Aug. 2.

“I’ve heard arguments that the letter he wrote was taken as his resignation,” Evans said. “I’ve read the letter and his words. ( ‘If nothing changes, I will be leaving at the end of the year to find a job where they care about the athletic program and the hard work that I put in.’ If that is considered his resignation, then why is he still teaching?

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“I’ve been told there was more than just this letter. Well, if there’s so much bad that’s in his employee file, then why was he allowed to spend all summer as coach? Why was he allowed to start the school year as coach? Why was it OK for him to be a coach until he questioned being removed from his PE (physical education) class and having his athletic period removed?”

At the beginning of her address, she thanked the board for allowing her time to speak on behalf of the community. She asked the board to overturn the decision to remove Mitchell from his coaching duties and reinstate him.

Evans, who has four children who attend Highland Home, recalled a personal story of how Mitchell’s coaching impacted the lives of one of her children.

“Perhaps some don’t understand that not everyone gets to play, that some coaches yell and that some coaches are harder on certain kids than others because they see a potential that no one else sees,” she said. “They want that child to realize that potential, because when that child does, they’re unstoppable.

“Jonny Mitchell did that for my daughter. He saw her hard work in basketball, and pulled her, as a seventh grader, to fill a varsity spot. Early on, she came home from practice and said, ‘I got yelled at a lot today.’ I said, ‘Good. Do you know what that means?” She said, “What?” I said that means he knows you can do better and is pushing you to do better.”

While Evans said she couldn’t speak about what may or may not be in Mitchell’s personal file, she said there’s no doubt among constituents beyond Highland Home the good Mitchell has done in the community.

“It isn’t often you find common ground among Brantley, Luverne and Highland Home, but we have found it when it comes to Jonny Mitchell,” she said. “With over 1,040 signatures and dozens of notes supporting Coach Mitchell, our petition, signed by parents, students, former players, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even just concerned residents who know this man personally, we are asking you to reinstate our coach – a man that, in his time at Highland Home, has not only coached softball, but has been our football offensive coordinator, boys and girls head basketball coach, ran all five basketball team practices during the season, ran a summer league for basketball, and established both youth basketball and baseball programs for our community.”

After her address, board member Sheri Claybrook, who said prior to the address the board would take no action regarding her address, motioned for the meeting to be adjourned.

When asked about Mitchell, Crenshaw County Superintendent Dodd Hawthorne reiterated both his and the board’s position regarding not commenting on personnel matters. He added the board had unanimously approved Justin Cope, an assistant coach of Mitchell’s, as the interim boys basketball coach, via the coaching supplements submitted during the meeting.

Evans said after the meeting that, although the board had taken no actions, she felt her message had at least been heard.

“The eye contact I had with certain board members, I know they heard me,” she said. “It’s definitely frustrating on one end to not have an answer right now, but on the other hand, I’ve only had a week and a half to gather this up before this meeting. This definitely gives an opportunity for the constituents of Crenshaw County to contact their board members to let them know that they do want him reinstated. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

When informed the board had approved Cope as the interim coach, Evans responded positively.

“I love Justin Cope,” she said. “We’ve got excellent coaches across the board. They’re just not Coach Mitchell. They’re great coaches, but [Mitchell] is that leader. He is that difference, and it’s not just for sports, but across the board at the school.”