WISE — Supporters of Union High School head basketball Coach Zack Moore, and the coach himself, vouched for his character Tuesday night amid questions about his coaching status, then waited to see what action Wise County School Board would take after a closed session to discuss personnel.
Moore's name didn't show up on the list of personnel actions, but other notables did.
Union High School Principal Dan Roop has been transferred to principal at the Alternative Education Center.
Mike Goforth, who left the vice principal's job at Union last year to become principal at Burton High School, was hired to replace Roop.
The board approved the recommended personnel changes without discussion or comment, which is standard procedure every month.
The board has not yet made a decision about renewing Moore's annual coaching contract, which runs until the end of this month, the superintendent and the board attorney confirmed after the meeting.
The two said they can't talk about what's happening, as it involves both the privacy of personnel and students.
Speakers didn't offer details either but their comments, and those by Moore, did reveal the problems at Union had stemmed from some unidentified behavior of some members of the basketball team at some point.
One candid parent called out administration at both school and division levels, saying she was "very unimpressed and disappointed" by what she experienced and describing the situation as being "horribly mismanaged."
Tabitha Hibbitts Grieger of Big Stone Gap said she was at the meeting because she started getting phone calls that afternoon and rumors were circulating around town that she had something to do with some effort to remove the basketball coach. She said she didn't even realize there was some decision to be made.
Grieger said she has "never wished" that Moore "be fired," noting how rumors circulate in small communities. "I never said that."
She had voiced concerns about what had happened and then, subsequently, the treatment of one of her own children, and others, she said.
Greiger said her child was called into the principal's office and grilled for hours while she never even received a courtesy call.
She said the talk of the situation was exaggerated and got out of control, adding that "the truth was bland compared to the crazy rumors."
She said a lot of the responsibility for the rumors falls to the school system.
She told the board there are people working for the school system who are talking about the kids. Those employees should understand that their mere positions with the school elevate what people think of their credibility, she noted, adding they should not engage in rumors. "It destroys people's lives," she said.
She called it a "nightmare situation for us as a family" and devastating to her child. She acknowledged they have attorneys involved and are getting advice.
Moore, in his 13th year as head coach, spoke next, telling the board, "I love the fact I get to affect young lives on a daily basis" through teaching and coaching.
He spoke to how his character has been questioned as has his control of his program and discipline of students.
Disciplining students has never been a problem for him, Moore said, noting he has had to kick off the best player on a team.
"I do not take coaching these young men lightly," Moore said. "I never have. I never will." He said he feels blessed to have the opportunity and tries "to be the coach I want my son to have."
He described himself as fair but firm and as someone who truly cares about the young men in the program. Hard work and self-discipline are central to what it means to be a great teammate, he added.
Moore also called himself someone who tries to improve himself daily as a person and a coach.
The "most recent incident," he said, does not reflect what all he has done in the last 12 years. He said he is proud of what he has helped create and believes confronting these kinds of situations make people better teachers and coaches.
"I put my heart and soul into this program and community," Moore told the board. "If given the chance to do so, that won't change."
Moore supporters included community members like Mike Allen, friends like Josh Tompkins and former players like Wes Slagle.
"If he loses that job at Union, what will he do tomorrow? The right thing," life-long friend Tompkins had told the board earlier during public expression. "I ask you tonight to do the right thing."
When the current situation came up and it got "just ugly," Tompkins said he asked his friend what he was going to do. “I am going to do the right thing," he related the coach saying. "That's who he is . . . he's spent a lifetime of doing the right thing."
Allen said Moore exemplifies the kind of teacher and coach Wise County wants, who loves what basketball can do for kids, a community and a school. Allen said the coach built a culture of doing the right things at the right time with the right people. He said Moore always "liked the last man on the bench as much as he did the leading scorer."
Former player Slagle spoke to the positive impact Moore has had on his life. He had high expectations for his players both on court and off, he said, but added players are responsible for their choices. It's not fair, Slagle told the board, to make coaches shoulder the burden of choices that students make.
While board members made no comments as per standard policy, District 3 member Donnese Kern of Big Stone Gap made remarks at the close of the meeting relating to ethical choices and how one anthropological organization is assessing how people best do that in making decisions. As it started to develop its framework, she said, the group determined the very first thing people need to look at in making ethical decisions comes from the 18th century Hippocratic oath taken by physicians.
As a nurse practitioner, she said, it applies to and has always been very important to her.
"The part that stood out to me," she said, "is first, do no harm."