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Horseplay or hazing? Parents of Clay student want his basketball coach fired

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Clay County school administrators are standing behind a high school basketball coach, even though one student's parents say their son was hospitalized with multiple injuries because the coach failed to report hazing.

George and Julia Wilkinson filed a citizens appeal form with Clay County High School last week, demanding that coach Scott Gibson be fired for committing "willful neglect of duty."

The Wilkinsons' son, a freshman on the basketball team, was in an altercation with a fellow player that led to his hospitalization with staples in his head, a concussion, a bruised tailbone and facial lacerations.

The parents say that the incident could have been prevented if Gibson had reported prior hazing to administrators or parents.

On Feb. 5, Gibson heard noises coming from the coach's room, which is attached to the boys' locker room. He walked into the room where he saw players hazing the boy with the lights out. Gibson turned the lights on and left the room, according to the complaint.

He had a discussion with the team following the incident. The Wilkinsons said Gibson talked to the boys about similar occurrences in other areas that have "led to lawsuits and sodomy of children in other counties," according to the complaint.

Parents, the principal and other administrators were not made aware of the incident until days later.

The coach, according to the complaint, took no action to alert administrators or punish the involved students.

Word of the hazing got out during a basketball game later that week, and when the story started spreading that the boy had told his parents, a fellow player was angered and attacked him in the locker room following the game, which led to his hospitalization, according to Clay County Superintendent Kenneth Tanner.

"This wasn't the coach's fault. When he suspected some horseplay was going on, he inquired about it and spoke with the kids as a group and individually. He looked into the details and dealt with it and felt there was nothing to report," he said. "He made admirable efforts to find out if anything was going on, and he was assured there was nothing. We have spent a great amount of time on this, and we're trying to put it past us now."

State code requires that school personnel report any incidents to administration immediately. Any willful neglect of those duties allows the school board to dismiss "any person in its employment at any time."

"Mr. Gibson's actions cannot be defined as proactive in any matter because he only acted following the second incident where my son was attacked . . .  ," the complaint states. "My son, the victim, was not protected by the coach's lack of action in reporting the incident and by his neglect in responding to the situation which led to retaliation and the hospitalization of my child."

In the complaint, the Wilkinsons claim Gibson "displayed no respect or understanding throughout these issues. Instead, he exhibited indifference and a lack of caring by complete dismissal of a hazing/bullying incident committed against a child.

"In no way is [the school] a safe, fear-free environment due to the school's failure to provide a safe environment after an investigation alleging bullying had begun. Our son is still in a fear-filled environment," the complaint states. "He attends classes and other events where students that were involved in this hazing incident (and have received no or little reprimand that we can tell) are in attendance.

"He is unable to rejoin the basketball team because he fears entering the locker room with the lack of supervision that has occurred in the past," the complaint states.

Gibson and Clay County High School Principal Melinda Isaacs did not respond to requests for comment.

Tanner said many of the allegations made by the Wilkinsons are false, including that Gibson told the student not to tell his parents about the initial hazing incident.

 "He told the kids, 'Don't go home and tell your parents one thing and tell me something else,' because he was trying to get the whole story. He did everything he could," Tanner said. "The coach has worked for us for quite a few years and has always taken great care of the kids. I give him credit.

"We do not allow hazing in any way, shape or form," he said. "We are pretty strict and have very few disciplinary problems at the high school."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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