Pine Tree ISD Board Takes No Action in Monday Meeting Regarding AD/Football Coach Derek Fitzhenry
LONGVIEW -- Despite the second meeting to contain two lengthy closed sessions in five weeks, Pine Tree ISD's board took no action Monday night regarding athletic director and head football coach Derek Fitzhenry.
Board president Charley Peck announced a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday (Oct. 21) will be held "regarding personnel." Pine Tree officials would not confirm or deny whether that meant Fitzhenry's dual position of athletic director and head football coach, though all signs point to that being the case.
The district put Fitzhenry on administrative leave Sept. 5, only to "conditionally reinstate" him Sept. 10, the day after the first of the aforementioned school board meetings, which have totaled almost 11 hours and featured four closed executive sessions that accounted for more than half of that time. The conditions of Fitzhenry's reinstatement were not disclosed at that time and still have not been disclosed.
[For more information on the almost six-hour meeting that occurred Sept. 9, click this link.]
Fitzhenry's early September administrative leave stemmed from an alleged incident that occurred during halftime of Pine Tree's season-opening 42-38 win against Van.
An athletic handbook policy change that allowed a senior football player to play despite a May felony arrest caused the latest executive session-heavy board meeting.
According to KLTV 7, the Pine Tree High School Athletic Handbook rule regarding eligibility of players charged with a felony was changed Oct. 2 without administrative approval to allow them to play as long as that player pled not guilty or a formal hearing had taken place. The player in question then played in Pine Tree's 45-14 loss to Nacogdoches on Oct. 4, and the policy was changed back Oct. 8 to its original verbiage flatly prohibiting recipients of felony charges from participating in athletic events.
Last month's meeting featured a split audience with dozens of people supporting Fitzhenry and almost as many who appeared to be against. Monday night's meeting was in stark contrast to that atmosphere. Virtually everyone in attendance Monday applauded the two people -- Rob Wallin and Todd Guest -- who spoke strongly against Fitzhenry and what they described as the current state of the PT athletics department during the open comments portion of the meeting. On Sept. 9, two people spoke in support of Fitzhenry, one against.
Below are excerpts from Wallin's and Guest's statements:
- Rob Wallin, 1987 PTHS graduate and father of Pine Tree students/former student:
It appears to me that many of the complaints that have been put forward by PTISD constituents that I would consider real issues have been ignored. It seems to me that non-ethical behavior by certain individuals inside the athletic department have been swept under the rug. ... Our current AD has been accused of many unethical actions that would have landed even the most talented of individuals in the unemployment line with asterisks on his resume. ... This is the individual who has been chosen to lead our young athletes at Pine Tree High School. Is this the kind of leadership we want our young athletes to emulate? Are we really surprised that some of the football players are in trouble with the law right now? How many chances does an individual get to intimidate, to bully, and to manipulate the very people he was hired to develop into more confident, honorable, and productive citizens? As the Pine Tree school board, are we all right with lowering the bar with the hope that some day we may have a really great football team? As a graduate and former athlete who tried to represent Pine Tree well, disappointment and embarrassment in the actions and decisions of our current AD does not even come close to describing my emotions. I would hope you would expect more from a person holding this respected position and speak out against allowing him to continue to make a mockery of the school and its athletic programs.
- Todd Guest, middle school science teacher and father of PT student/former students:
The silent majority doesn't seem to be so silent anymore. They talk at the football games. They talk at the volleyball games. They talk at church. They talk at the grocery store. Everybody wants answers to what it is that has transpired over the last few weeks, especially because they've been made so popular in the media. We can't just stand by and let the district self-destruct. We have a vested interest in everything that we do. ... Property values make better schools, and better schools increase property values. Our property values are decreasing with every day that this gets drug out in the news and in the media and all the questions that people have about things. Who would want to move to our district? ... We're asking you just to resolve the issue. Whatever it is, whatever your decision is, come to a decision and let that decision be final. Don't let the fear of making a wrong decision keep you from making the right decision. There's too much at stake for our children, for the teachers, for the parents, for everybody, for the former graduates."
Pine Tree offensive coordinator Derrick Hennigan served as acting head coach during PT's one football game that occurred when Fitzhenry was on administrative leave. Pine Tree beat Center 64-49 on Sept. 6 in that contest.
After starting 2-0, Pine Tree has lost three of its last four games. The Pirates are 3-3 overall and 0-1 in District 14-4A following back-to-back 45-14 losses to Nacogdoches and Texas High.
Pine Tree visits arch-rival Hallsville (4-2, 1-0) on Friday at Bobcat Stadium.