Student support builds for fired Chrisman High School girls basketball coach

04/23/2014 11:09 PM

04/23/2014 11:09 PM

A player-led movement to bring back a fired William Chrisman High School girls basketball coach is headed to the hallways.

A week after 11 students wrote letters to the Independence School District Board of Education, voicing their anger and confusion over the firing of Lindsay Thompson, the players and coach said they have received no clear explanation from school or district administration as to why she was dismissed as coach.

Members of the William Chrisman girls basketball team plan to wear T-shirts to school Thursday, urging the school to reverse its decision on Thompson, who won three conference championships and compiled a 107-74 record over her seven-year tenure.

Thompson said she was fired April 1 in a meeting with school principal Mike Becker.

“I was completely blindsided by the decision and (I am) still struggling to understand the rationale behind me being fired,” said Thompson, who has remained at the school as an English teacher.

Becker referred all questions to Nancy Lewis, the director of public relations for the district. Lewis declined to comment on the reason for Thompson’s dismissal, citing privacy issues.

Prior to her arrival, the Bears finished 6-19 in the 2006-07 season. Thompson led the team to three conference championships over the next five years. The Bears went 12-14 this season, with three juniors and two freshmen in the starting lineup.

In their letters, the 11 students, 10 of them basketball players, describe the impact Thompson has made on their athletic careers, as well as her strides to improve their academic progress.

“The atmosphere is everyone — teachers and coaches — are on edge because of this (firing),” said Justin Cramer, who teaches science at William Chrisman and served as an assistant on Thompson’s staff. “I think the consensus among teachers is if this could happen to Lindsay Thompson, it could happen to anybody.”

Thompson represents the fourth high-profile coaching change at William Chrisman over the past two seasons.

Fifteen-year boys basketball coach John Vickers resigned after the 2012-13 season. Five-year volleyball coach Vanessa Jones did not return after last season. Football coach John Crutcher resigned after the fall season, his fourth with the school. In their final seasons, Vickers was 13-11, Jones was 14-16-1 and Crutcher was 1-9.

The girls basketball players’ quest to determine what led to Thompson’s termination started only hours after they were informed on April 4. Sophomore Maggie Beem wrote a letter in her fourth-hour class, in which she credited Thompson for instilling confidence into her personal life and athletic career.

The players’ movement quickly grew.

Eleven students wrote letters and mailed them to the school board prior to its meeting last week. The players also started a Twitter account — @BringCoachTBck — to further publicize their cause. Their T-shirts will express similar messages, with “Dub-C Loves Coach T” scripted across the front and “#TeamstrongTakeover” and “#SaveCoachT” displayed on the back.

“The goal is still to keep her,” Beem said. “But if we can’t keep her, we want to show them what they’re losing. I think she’s the influence you want your kids to have.”

Beem and four teammates met with district assistant superintendent Brad MacLaughlin on April 16. Beem said MacLaughlin took responsibility for firing Thompson, but provided contradictory explanations.

“He told us winning had nothing to do with it,” said Beem, whose mother, Kate, said she supports her daughter’s cause. “But later on, we asked again what the overall goal was with the program, and he said state championships and final fours. That sounds like winning.”

A secretary for MacLaughlin referred all questions to Lewis.

When asked what expectations the district has for its high school girls basketball head coaches, Lewis said: “This is not speaking about any one person individually, but we — as a district — do all we can to create a culture of success in our athletics programs. What we hope to see in any of our programs is continued growth and progress. That’s something we owe our student-athletes.

“Our programs are defined by not only success on the scoreboard, but success on the court and field as far as creating a culture of character and creating students (who) will be successful down the road, whether that includes athletics or not.”

Asked if Thompson fit that criteria, Lewis declined comment for personnel reasons.

In letters they sent to the school board, the players expressed their belief that Thompson met that standard.

They hope to relay that message to the school board at its May 12 meeting.

“I feel like if we dedicated ourselves to the program and we’re going to have a coach taken from us, we should know what’s behind it,” said junior Makenzie Erikson, a starter for the Bears last season. “So I think our goal now is we want to know why, but we also want to let people know she shouldn’t have been fired. It’s hard to grasp.”

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