By Kim Adams Graham
The Bullock County Board of Education voted to non-renew Coach Willie Spears contract at its board meeting held on May 14, 2020.
Board members Alfreda Scott-Meeks, Dr. Scherrie Banks Pickett, and Gary Coleman voted in favor of not renewing Coach Spears’ contract.
Board members LaDerrick Caldwell and Dr. Orlando Johnson supported keeping Spears.
Bullock County High School Principal Kelvin James told the Herald that he did not recommend to Superintendent Dr. Christopher Blair that Coach Spears contract not be renewed. Which means Dr. Blair made the recommendation to the board that Spears contract not be renewed and it was not Principal James.
Board President Dr. Johnson continued, “I want the community to respectfully understand that in terms of voting different doesn’t equate to being wrong.
Each board member votes according to their own expertise, experiences, and beliefs.
The superintendent recommends in writing that the board non-renew the teacher. The board need not and should not provide a reason to the teacher for his non-renewal. Under state law, the non-tenured teacher has no right to job protection.”
Board President Dr. Orlando Johnson continued, “I can only explain why I vote against the recommendation.” He says it was solely based on his view of the current condition of the district and the students.
“When voting, I’m always mindful of our community, but most of all, our students. And that’s always my focus…what’s 100 percent best for the students of Bullock County. I believe Coach Spears genuinely cares about our students and this community. A man with his proven coaching abilities could possibly be in a bigger district, making more money, but he chose to come here and assist our city’s recreation department with the on-going efforts of rebuilding our football program. I have witnessed how he has positively impacted lives and shifted the pride of this district to greater heights, all while never asking for an increase in pay. He has definitely been one of our greatest assets and it’s going to be challenging to recover from this.”
Coach Spears said in August of 2019 Dr. Blair told him that he would fire him and see to it he never works in the State of Alabama again.
The Herald asked Coach Spears how he felt after hearing that statement. Spears replied, “I knew then that Dr. Blair would build a case against me and do whatever it took to run me out of Bullock County.”
It is obvious that the board’s decision is not a reflection of the community. In less than 48 hours over 1,000 people signed a petition to keep Coach Spears. This is a direct contrast to the decision made by the Bullock County School Board.
Three board members voted to terminate Coach Spears without giving a reason. The principal is his direct supervisor and he was not in favor of terminating Spears’ contract.
Coach Spears told the Herald that he has never received a job description, a list expectations or an evaluation.
He never received progressive discipline and was denied mediation. He said Dr. Blair never communicated with him after big wins, college signings or team accomplishments. Their only communication was negative and adversarial.
The firing of Coach Spears is nothing new for Bullock County. In 2019 the basketball team competed in Alabama High School Athletic Association State Tournament as semifinalist.
Head Basketball Coach Douglas Moore’s contract was not renewed and he had to reapply for his job. However, his teaching position was never in question, unlike Spears. As Athletic Director Spears fought to keep Coach Moore in his position because he felt that this could happen to him one day.
Board Members have stated that supplemental positions are renewed every year and coaches must reapply every year. This is not true. Spears did not have to reapply after his first season.
Last year Spears reached out to several schools including every school in the region. He discovered Bullock County is the only school district that makes coaches reapply each year. Spears believes the district has not had consistent success because they have not had consistency in coaching.
For the past twenty years no football coach has lasted more than three seasons in Bullock County.
Willie Spears- 2 years
Heath Laney- 2 years
Martae Wyckoff- 1 year
Josh Chambers- .5 years
Charles Winchester- 2 years
Rico White- 2 years
Patrick Plott- 1 year
LeBrian Stewart- 3 years
Clint Foster- 2 years
Coach White and Coach Plott left Bullock County and had great success in other programs. The same is true for girls’ basketball coach Courtney Pritchett.
The Herald asked Coach Spears to send statistics for his two-year coaching tenure in Bullock County. He responded, “Thirty-two were saved and fourteen baptized.” He was referring to the students who made a public decision to change their life.
Looking at Coach Spears football coaching statistics you will see that Bullock County Football team went 11-10 overall over a two-year period. Four of the 2019 losses came from teams who won 10 or more games: Reeltown, St. James, Pike Road, and Gordo.
His teams were 7-7 in the region and played in one playoff game. Although he was here less than two years Spears’ seven region wins are the most in school history.
When Spears was hired in June of 2018 the Hornets had the longest region losing streak in the State of Alabama. Bullock County had lost fifty-nine region games in a row.
In the past two seasons Bullock County football won homecoming for the first time in 20 years, went to the playoffs for the first time in history, had the most region wins in school history, had the first WSFA Player of the Week by the biggest margin in the history of the award, two all-state selections, had the first shutout in 25 years, beat rivals Booker T. Washington and Barbour County each year, had the most wins of any season since 1973, had the best region record in school history and had the longest winning streak in over 25 years.
The most exciting wins for Coach Spears were the two homecoming wins. Spears spent time as a division one assistant coach at a popular Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU.) He said Bullock County homecoming atmosphere is similar to that of top black college football classics.
The current homecoming format was started under Athletic Director Courtney Pritchett. The purpose for the massive event was to bring money to the sports program. Spears said the Monday following homecoming Mr. James told him that they raised over 35,000 dollars.
A few weeks later Spears asked for gold pants for the football team and was told that there was no money.
According to Spears he and his staff did more with less and left Bullock County better than they found it.
The chart below shows the modern history of Bullock County Football. Not represented are the great teams of R.G. Cook and Richard Chapman from almost fifty plus years ago.
Many community members believe Coach Spears’ greatest achievements happened off the field. A local attorney said the juvenile crime rate had been cut in half since his hire date.
The mayor said that homecoming weekend was the highest-grossing revenue for local businesses in the history of Union Springs Commerce.
The National Federation of State High School Association breaks down the statistical data which proves a successful football program directly affects academic achievement and improves school discipline.
Coach Spears said he will mostly miss the players, but will also miss the coaches, Piggly Wiggly’s baked chicken and dressing, the friendly and knowledgeable staff at Dykes Automotive, lunches at the AG, Gibson’s Home Center, BP, Subway, Church’s Chicken, his dentist Dr. Williams, and the many supportive pastors and churches and other locations he frequently visited. He said he loves the community and the amazing parents here.
Coach Spears says, “This hurts, it’s sad. It feels like a divorce. If the Superintendent and school board were emotionally connected to the children and community, this would have not happened.”
Why did this have to happen…again. The community has questions.