BOE Reject's Governor For Head Coach Position

Gov. Jim Justice will not be Greenbrier East High School’s next head boys’ basketball coach.

Greenbrier County Board of Education met for a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 23, with only the personnel agenda listed as an item to consider.

After deliberating in executive session for approximately 10 minutes, the board returned, unanimously approving all of the other personnel decisions listed. However, a motion from Boardmember Hazel Reed pulled Justice out from the rest of the personnel decisions, while a motion from Boardmember Rick Parker had the vote on Justice taken by roll call.

Board President Jeanie Wyatt and Boardmember Mary Humpherys voted in favor.

Boardmembers Reed, Kay Smith, and Parker voted no.

As a result, Justice was not approved to serve as head boys’ basketball coach.

Shortly before the vote, two guest speakers took the podium to make requests of the board in relation to the vote. The first was John “Goose” Gabbert, a member of the Greenbrier East High School Boys’ Basketball team. He was joined by a number of his fellow players in the crowd.

“I’m just here to say that we deserve more of a full-time basketball coach, a coach that comes to all practices, not only games,” Gabbert said. “We want someone that’s going to care for us. We want someone who is going to put in as much hard work and dedication as we do every day.”

New River Community and Technical College Campus Director and Community Outreach organizer Roger Griffith also spoke before the board with a request.

We’re going to be facing teams that have organized since the season ended in May. What I would like to do is ask for a commitment from whoever you vote for as coach to have a full, organizing off-season. In the weightroom, playing …, all those types of things. That’s what these kids have worked all summer for, with the help of others. We have a team that can make a state run. … The only way they can do that is if [the coach is] in the weight room and organized activities. … We need that all season program and that commitment.

Roger Griffith speaks.

During Justice’s COVID-19 press briefing shortly after the board decision, the governor expressed his disappointment.

“How do you feel? To be perfectly honest, anybody would feel some level of emptiness. I’ve coached there for 26 seasons and they’ve had success beyond belief. I’ve never cut a kid, I’ve never had a kid become academically ineligible because I really believe in the kids and I really, really, really stress the academics first and foremost. There’s no question whatsoever, this is the worst of the worst from the standpoint of the kids. That’s what this is all about in every way. The principal, the assistant principal, the athletic director, they have to make a recommendation to the board and the board absolutely has to listen to that recommendation. They can’t do things from personal preference or political preference or whatever, that’s what we have state laws for. … We have many, many challenges in our state and I would always challenge you to find one thing that I’ve really missed. … I take this responsibility first and foremost in my life, period, other than my family. I will always do what is right there.”

The Board of Education agenda also notes that after the board vote, the final decision maker for employment in Greenbrier County Schools, the position would also have to be approved by the State Department, pending “sufficient enrollment,” “West Virginia Department of Education certification,” and “all county requirements.”

Justice also cited “the kids” as a reason he should have been approved.

“The way that it all came down, it came down with just that ugliness of personal preference or political preference. … Frankly, the Board of Education in Greenbrier County that will ultimately not hurt not me but the kids. … I truly will never apologize for wanting to spend a little bit of my time trying to help kids because I’ve done it and have done it and done it. I love those kids. Those kids mean an awful lot to me. Not just the kids at Greenbrier East High School but the kids anywhere and everywhere in this state. There’s no way… that one ounce of my duties as your governor would ever be surked in any way. … No possibility.”

During his comments at the Board of Education, Gabbert highlighted what he wanted from a head coach.

“I want you to think about the repercussions on us, because we’re the people that are going to be most impacted,” Gabbert said. “We want a coach that’s going to watch film, go out and scout the games, and help us with on and off the court issues. This team has put in a lot of work this off season and we want someone that’s going to put an equal amount of work in coaching us, and helping us become better basketball players and people. … It’s not fair to us if we have a coach that will put in 50 percent of the effort. Regardless of the outcome of today’s decision, I’m going to give 100 percent to this team and we’re going to keep working toward our goal of winning a state championship this year.”

The audience waits for the board during executive session.

Senate Minority Leader and Greenbrier County Representative Stephen Baldwin also posted about the decision shortly after, echoing Gabbert’s comments.

“The board did the right thing. The students want & deserve a full time coach. It’s my hope that this won’t devolve into a legal situation but instead moves forward respectfully for the good of the community.”

Griffith also pointed to last week’s decision on COVID-19 precaution protocols, including a mask mandate for the first month of classes.

“I want to say thank you to you guys for everything you’ve done for the county. You’re in a hard spot and it doesn’t matter which way you turn out, not just this issue, but the issue last week.”

The Greenbrier County Board of Education.

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