(Story has been updated with comments from Solomon Williams, the father of player Drew Williams)
East Hamilton boys’ basketball coach Rodney English has been suspended from his coaching duties and did not accompany the team to Cleveland for Tuesday nights’ tonight’s District 5-3A game against Bradley Central at Jim Smiddy Arena.
Assistant coach Zach Roddenberry, who has two years of head coaching experience at Boyd-Buchanan and a half a season as interim coach at Midland High School in Arkansas, directed the Hurricanes to a hard-earned 60-52 win over the Bears, despite having two starters out of the lineup.
“We talked about several things before the game,” Roddenberry said. “The beautiful thing about basketball is people can go through some things, but on the court nothing else matters except basketball. It didn’t matter who was standing over there on the sidelines, these kids responded by playing their game.”
English, who guided the Hurricanes to the 2017 boys’ state tournament in the program’s best season since the school opened in 2009 and has a 76-41 record in four seasons, on Monday was suspended by East Hamilton principal Gail Chuy for a confrontation with player Drew Williams and his father, Solomon, after a 62-49 victory against Tyner on Friday.
As a result of the suspension, English can have no contact with his team until the issue is resolved.
“I was suspended for Monday and Tuesday,” English said in a telephone interview. “Beyond that, I don’t know. I won’t be at Bradley tonight (Tuesday) with my kids and that’s unfortunate for the kids. This happened Friday and I’ve been asked not to talk about the incident at all because it’s still trying to be resolved.
“I believe everything will be fine.”
English met with Chuy on Monday morning and the suspension was handed down during that meeting. English later sent a text to his assistant coaches about the suspension and Chattanoogan.com obtained a copy from a source outside the school.
It read: “Guys, I had a meeting with Mrs. Chuy a little while ago. I’m suspended from any contact with you guys and our team until (and) investigation is concluded into me assaulting Drew, and building a culture of bullying/intimidation. I would assume Coach (Zach) Roddenberry will take control. Please stay away from me and I wish you guys all the best.
“P.S. there’re towels in the wash to go in the dryer.
Chuy, also talking by phone, said the allegations against English were brought by the “father and mother of Drew Williams,” saying English insulted the Williams family by saying something to their kid that was “inappropriate and disrespectful.”
“I have been investigating the allegations and (English) confirmed he said those things,” Chuy said. “I have not completed the investigation and I have two more students and one more adult I want to speak to before I make a decision.
“I asked Rodney to not be around the basketball program until I complete this investigation.”
Chuy, who has also consulted Hamilton County Schools human resources, said they are conducting “a thorough, not just a cursory, investigation.”
The principal also said English’s suspension may or may not run past Tuesday’s game.
East Hamilton’s next scheduled game is Thursday at Van Buren County and on Friday the Hurricanes host Walker Valley in another district showdown.
On Wednesday, Chattanoogan.com spoke with Solomon Williams.
“Anytime something happens of this nature, the public should have the proper context,” he said. “Drew did not create this. The problem is that one man’s action is bringing a dark cloud over the community. One question needs to be asked: If the story was flipped, and my son got angry and cussed out coach English and insulted his family and then placed his hands on the coach, what would the punishment be for my son?
“I thought, based on the facts that we know, and coach English has admitted he used vulgarity against my son and our family, that would lead to more than a one-day suspension. Maybe we should make it indefinitely. They’ve got good coaches over there. They won (Tuesday) without coach and two starters.”
As for the incident, English was addressing his team in the locker room and at some point turned his focus on Williams, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward. Eventually, the team left the locker room and the confrontation with Williams’ father took place in the walkway from the locker room to the playing court in the high school gymnasium.
The Hurricanes were able to shove the allegations aside and rally from a three-point halftime deficit to post the victory and improve their overall record to 19-3 and 7-1 in district play.
“We have a lot of heart,” said Justin Dozier, a 5-foot-10 senior guard. “We went out there and played basketball, didn’t let the situation affect us and got the win.
“We went to the dressing room trailing by three points at halftime and said we’ll fight in the second half. We were not going to lose this game.”
Dozier led East Hamilton with 18 points, 16 coming in the second half and 10 in the fourth period, during which the Canes built a 50-37 advantage with 4:12 remaining.
Morrell Schramm, a 6-1 sophomore and new to the starting lineup, scored 13 points that included eight in the second half. Cameron Montgomery finished with 11 points and put up eight after halftime.
Senior guard Vandrele Wilson, while scoring just three points, turned in a solid floor game and came into the game with plenty of confidence.
“The whole time I knew we could stay together because we’re family,” he said. “When we stepped on the court it was all about basketball. Our two big men were out and that affected us a little bit in the post, but we had some solid inside defense, we started pressuring them more in the second half and that got us going.”
Six-foot-four senior forward DaVae Hughley and Williams, at 6-6 the team’s tallest player, were not in the starting lineup. Hughley was ejected from the Tyner game due to two technical fouls and must sit out two games, per TSSAA regulations.
According to Roddenberry, Williams sat out due to a disciplinary problem unrelated to Friday’s incident following the Tyner game. Williams was in the stands in street clothes. Williams’ father, Solomon, said during a Wednesday telephone interview he took his son out of Monday’s practice and on Tuesday took him out of school due to a lack of “feedback on the situation with coach English and our son.”
At some point, Drew Williams returned to school Tuesday his father later explained it was “Chuy’s decision to suspend him, forcing him to sit out the Bradley game.
The Canes and Bears were tied 28-28 three minutes into the fourth period when Sam Randolph hit a free throw for East Hamilton’s first lead since midway through the opening period. That triggered the 11-0 run that was capped by Schramm made a layup, pushing the Canes’ advantage to 39-28.
East Hamilton’s scoring spree, with most scoring coming off Bradley misses or turnovers that created several transition buckets (20 of the Canes’ 22 field goals came inside the 3-point line), eventually reached 17-4. Schramm’s finger roll layup gave the Canes a 45-32 with 6:40 left.
A layup by Tyler Ferguson and freshman Mason Rothwell enabled the Bears to climb back to within eight points, but East Hamilton regained control by scoring nine of the final 13 points ending the game.
It was East Hamilton’s seventh straight win and 12th in the last 13 games. The Canes are in second place in league standings behind Cleveland’s Blue Raiders.
“Our seniors did a great job rallying everybody,” the 27-year-old Roddenberry said. “Our bigs were not here tonight, so we needed a bunch of guys to step up tonight and they did. Bradley is big and long and we have a bunch of 5-9 guys two others over six-feet, but they got it done.”
East Hamilton 9 12 22 12 – 60
Bradley Central 19 10 6 22 00 52
East Hamilton (60) – Wilson 3, Cameron Montgomery 11, Pasley 2, S. Randolph 6, Rogers 2, Justin Dozier 18, Johnson 5, Morrell Schramm 13.
Bradley Central (52) – Boyd 2, Clark, Lameric Tucker 14, Tyler Ferguson 14, Cobb 8, Elrod 3, Mason Rothwell 10, Greene 1, Rathbone.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 2 (Montgomery 1, Dozier 1), Bradley Central 3 (Tucker 1, Elrod 1, Rothwell 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)