A former East Texas athletic director is breaking his silence about his decision to leave Pine Tree ISD.
Earlier this year, the Derek Fitzhenry, athletic and head football coach for Pine Tree Independent School District in Longview, was put on administrative leave. He was then reinstated, but weeks later, controversy over the high school athletic handbook thrust him back into the spotlight.
After weeks of mystery surrounding the district's dealings with Fitzhenry, Friday he was finally ready to put it all on the table.
Following an incident at the first home football game on August 30, the coach was put on administrative leave for allegedly shoving a student.
"I was coming through the door to talk to some kids about... they were being rowdy. It was right before kickoff, and I went out to talk to those kids and right as I was going out, here comes the student. He's not looking. He's coming through the door. I block him and then moved him to the side with my forearm. Then I grabbed his arm and said, 'No. Just wait right there. You need to hear this, too,' and I explained to them this is how we were going to go about this. When we're at the football field we're going to leave the football players alone. We're going to let them focus and I told them, the two football players, 'y'all need to get inside, get with the rest of the team.' That's how it was. There was no profanity. No inappropriate language. I just addressed the kids," explained Fitzhenry.
Fitzhenry says there was no demeaning intent in his words or actions at all.
However, the coach was put on administrative leave while the district investigated the event. Then, he was reinstated. The school publicly said his reinstatement was conditional. Fitzhenry says the district did not impose any conditions on his reinstatement.
"When you have power over someone, you're supposed to protect that power and treat people correctly and that wasn't done," says Fitzhenry.
Weeks later, there was more controversy. A student charged with a felony offense wanted to play ball, and Fitzhenry says he learned that the only thing standing in the student's way was his own athletic handbook.
"From administrators telling he and his mom that he could play, [and] the fact that there's no school rule... no school board policy that says this kid can't play. So why wouldn't I change the rule? I'm the reason he can't play and I'm the only reason," says Fitzhenry.
Fitzhenry showed us his own copy of that handbook. It's filled with edits he'd made as athletic director. According to the district, those edits were not allowed, but Fitzhenry says those edits were part of him doing the right thing.
"I was trying to do what was right by that kid. I cannot say if he is guilty or innocent. I was trying to do what's right by the kid," says Fitzhenry.
Fitzhenry says after what he'd been through the first few months of the school year, he knew it was time to leave.
"If your boss doesn't support you, it's time to go," he says.
The coach, says his job, in part, was the casualty of a power struggle and recent leadership changes.
"I think that, of course, the struggle for control of the board...that changed. The leadership changed in May and I feel like the fact that the board president happened to be friend of mine and one of the other board members lost their position and one of my parents that was with the football team got another position on the board... I feel like there was some resentment to that," says Fitzhenry.
Fitzhenry admits he has been vocal about things he disagrees with and feels that probably played some part in getting him where he is now.
"I've complained about some things. I've had disagreements about some things with the bond, some things with building, some things that I thought were discrimination," he explains.
Fitzhenry is no longer at the top of the Pine Tree High School coaching staff. He's not longer a part of it, and alleges that some of that staff wanted him gone.
"Obviously there were some people on the staff that had a grudge or they had some motive," Fitzhenry says.
The team carried on Friday night without him. It was their second game since Fitzhenry left, but he says he's still cheering them on.
"I want these guys to be successful, chase their dreams and achieve their goals, but I certainly don't want them to think that I walked out on them," he says.
Fitzhenry says he never got the chance to say goodbye or to explain to his team why he had to go. He adds that he still doesn't know where he's going, but he has faith it'll all turn out just right.
"At the end of this, we'll be in the right place. We'll be where we're supposed to be," Fitzhenry says.
Friday, KLTV reached out to Pine Tree ISD but were told they did not want to comment.
Thursday, September 11 2014 5:21 AM EDT2014-09-11 09:21:40 GMT
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