One by one, they strode to the microphone to tell the James Island Charter High School board of directors what they thought of coaches Tom Hatley and Stan Wilkins - and what they thought of the board itself.
More than 100 people turned out for an emotionally charged board meeting at the school Monday night, motivated by weeks of rumors that Hatley, the Trojans' longtime baseball coach, and veteran basketball coach Wilkins would be fired by the board of directors.
Some people carried signs reading "Trojans baseball is Hatley baseball," and every one of the speakers during a public comment period voiced support for the two coaches.
At the meeting's end, both coaches still had their jobs, and the board of directors had voted to return contractual authority to newly named principal Richard Gordon, apparently ending a power struggle over who would hire and fire coaches at the charter school.
Supporters of Hatley and Wilkins greeted the decision as a victory, and Hatley said he was gratified by the show of support.
"It was great to see this many people come out and support our school," said Hatley, who has been the Trojans' baseball coach for 27 years with two state championships, nine region titles and almost 500 victories. "It was a very humbling experience for coach Wilkins and myself to have this great community support. And it was great to see so many people come out to a board meeting, because we are a charter school."
As a charter school, James Island High School is run by a board of directors, made up of community members, who set policy for the school. The recent unrest in James Island athletics dates back to that board's removal late last year of former principal Bob Bohnstengel. When Bohnstengel sued the school, his attorney said the conflict arose over who would hire the school's new football coach - the principal or the board of directors.
When new football coach Ike Allred was hired in February, The Post and Courier reported that Allred was not the top choice of the school's leadership committee, but was hired by the board of directors anyway.
"In my opinion, and not necessarily that of others, (Allred) was a better fit for what the school needs," board president Keith Bolus said at the time.
When Hatley was removed from his duties as athletic director last month, rumors that he and Wilkins would be next to go began to grow. That's what brought so many people to Tuesday night's board meeting, including former James Island football coach Gary Gist, who retired in 2008.
"I stand behind these coaches completely," Gist told the board, adding that "rumors are killing this school."
Brady Schuck, a senior basketball player, led a group of seven players who addressed the board on behalf of Wilkins.
"To fire coach Wilkins would be devastating as a whole for James Island athletics," Schuck said. "He has lived and breathed for the island for years, and he has our full support."
Austin Weekley, a former Trojan baseball player who pitches for Charleston Southern, said he could not imagine James Island baseball without Hatley.
"He's developed boys into men and taught us accountability," Weekley said. "He led us to become better students and better people in the community. We don't know who they could bring in that would be better than coach Hatley."
Several speakers also took aim at the nine-member board.
"It's embarrassing to tell someone that you taught at James Island with what is going on on this island," said Millie Kennedy, a former teacher and coach at James Island.
When the issue of who is in charge of hiring and firing at the charter school came up Monday, board chairman Bolus said, "In a charter school, the ultimate authority rests with the board. Usually, the recommendation of the principal carries great weight, but it is not the ultimate authority at this school."
That prompted board member Susan Milliken to note that in November of last year, the board ruled that while Gordon held the title of acting principal, the board itself would "temporarily assume the authority to contract on behalf of the school until further notice."
Noting that Gordon was named permanent principal last week, Milliken moved that the board return authority to the principal to sign contracts, without board approval, in amounts up to $14,900, which would be enough to cover stipends of most coaches. The motion was approved, in effect returning hiring and firing authority of coaches to the principal.
"The board has allowed me to contract up to $14,900 without board approval," Gordon said.
Gordon said he could not discuss personnel matters, but said he and new AD Lisa Enfinger are coming up with an evaluation rubric to use for all coaches and that an announcement on the futures of Hatley and Wilkins would be forthcoming. All coaches work on one-year contracts, he said.
Long-time baseball coach Tom Hatley was moved by the support expressed for him by numerous speakers at a meeting of the James Island Charter High School board of directors. (Wade Spees/Staff)×