Seeing red: With veteran coach on hot seat, Nevins, supporters remain perplexed

Reggie Nevins was in Huntingdon and Bedford last weekend, and the first person he ran into in both towns immediately asked him about his uncertain status as Central High School’s boys basketball coach.

“I feel like I could go to Alaska,” Nevins said, half-kiddingly, earlier this week, “and somebody would start talking about it.”

Understandably so. Since word came out that he was under fire from Central’s administration and about to be recommended for termination at a March 18 school board meeting — a matter that was tabled, now until May 21 — Nevins has been inundated with support.

From players, ex-players, coaches, former students, opponents, you name it, he’s been flooded with questions about how this situation has gotten to this point.

His answer is the same: It’s a long, draining story that he can’t understand.

A recap:

n Following a loss to Huntingdon at Hollidaysburg Area High School, which ended Central’s season, Nevins was highly critical of District 6.

Weather had pushed the semifinal games back to Feb. 21, and the championship game — in which only the winner would advance to the PIAA Class 4A tournament — was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, Feb. 23.

Critical comments

Nevins was beefed going into the game for the lack of turnaround time and even more so after the Scarlet Dragons got off to a good start and then hit a wall in a tired, legless performance against the unbeaten Bearcats.

He accused District 6 of showing disregard for its participants.

“Huntingdon is better than us,” Nevins told the Mirror’s Michael Boytim. “We lost three times to them. They might be one of the top three teams in the state, but who knows? Maybe we’re one of the top six or eight. We don’t get a chance to continue thanks to our representatives who decide all this. We appreciate the fact we got about a day and a half to prepare for this game.

“We had a barnburner against Tyrone on Thursday. You get done about 9 o’clock at night, get one practice to get ready for a game, and you have no chance to get ready. I think that’s a very poor job by our district committee. I don’t know if anyone else, boys or girls, was put in that predicament. It’s bad enough that we only get one team to go to states, but then to come back here a day and a half after you already played, I think is just ridiculous. I know they say they care about the kids, but obviously they couldn’t care less about the kids. We got a whole week next week (beginning Feb. 25), and we could have played any day at any venue. We would have gone to Huntingdon, it didn’t matter to us.”

Those comments seemed to be a tipping point — or, perhaps from the Central administration’s view, an opportunity — to end Nevins’ tenure.

Shortly after the game, Nevins was called to a meeting and told his dismissal was planned. The winningest coach in Blair County scholastic boys basketball history with 452 victories vehemently disagreed and said he would like a hearing.

He secured an attorney, Joseph Sutton of Ebensburg, who will join him May 21.

False rumors debunked

In the meantime, rumors began to spread in the Cove that Nevins was being dismissed because District 6 was threatening to put Central’s other athletic teams on probation because of his comments.

That is not true, District 6 chairman Bill Marshall reiterated to the Mirror.

Marshall said he’s heard “false accusations of suspension of all their teams.”

Marshall said he’s been kept apprised by Spring Cove Superintendent Betsy Baker of where the situation stands.

Nevins’ hearing has been postponed a couple times, at the request of each side, one reason why it’s dragged out this long.

District 6’s final meeting of the school year is scheduled for June 12, at which point it likely will hear how Central has addressed the concern.

Marshall said the vast majority of discipline rendered to coaches comes after public criticism of officiating, adding, “I’ve never been part of a meeting where a (school) district had sanctioned (a coach) and we (District 6) have said it was unacceptable.”

Baker has declined to comment, saying, “Due to confidentiality requirements, we are not able to release information regarding an employee.”

To briefly rehash, Marshall said District 6 was challenged by availability of sites — with enough seating to accommodate championship interest — and prefers to use Penn State Altoona, Mount Aloysius and Saint Francis. Altoona Area High School is another option. Hollidaysburg, which hosted the 4A title doubleheader (which included Huntingdon’s girls on Feb. 23) was barely big enough.

“We’re site deficient,” Marshall said, adding semifinals for classes 1A, 2A and 3A still had to be contested — why the 4A final wasn’t moved to the week of Monday, Feb. 25, as Nevins wanted, since the PIAA tournament didn’t begin until March 8.

Opponents can relate

Nevins’ colleagues sympathized with Central’s plight.

Tyrone coach George Gripp, beaten by the Dragons in the semifinals when a victory would have put him in the same boat, said: “When the revised playoff schedule came out, I was a bit concerned about only having one day to prepare.”

Huntingdon coach Nick Payne did not appreciate that Nevins’ comments took away from part of the Bearcats’ achievement — a second straight district title while improving to 24-0 — but he also understood them.

“It benefited us — the quick turnaround,” Payne, whose team breezed over Juniata in its semifinal game, said. “Knowing they did play a tough game against Tyrone and Reggie does a heckuva job preparing his teams, I definitely understand his viewpoint.”

While Payne mentioned that the season includes “sometimes playing back-to-back games,” he also knows the vast majority of teams focus all year on the one championship most can realistically win – and that’s the district title.

Payne has long admired Nevins — he’s “voted him in the top three coaches in the Mirror (coach of the year ballot) the last three years. I truly think he’s done a tremendous job with the teams he’s had” – and can’t fathom Central would let him go.

“For him to possibly lose his job,” Payne said, “it’s hard for me to believe that would be the outcome.”

‘I kind of cringed’

Nevins knows his comments crossed the line of sportsmanship. He said when he read them in the Mirror the next day, “I kind of cringed.”

He does not blame Boytim or the Mirror.

“Maybe I should have used a different pronoun when I said they don’t care about kids,” he said. “I should have said ‘our kids.’ I shouldn’t have made a blanket statement. I just don’t think they took our kids into consideration. I should have worded it differently.”

Though many in the basketball community, and certainly at Central, agree with his comments, they seem, from this view, to merit only a slap on the wrist. As punishment, Nevins said he “wouldn’t have been happy about a one- or two-game suspension (for 2019-20), but I probably would have accepted it.”

Suspended from baseball

Instead, stunningly, Central suspended him from all activities, including his role as assistant baseball coach, which rocked him.

“I was told I wasn’t allowed to be on any school facilities — I couldn’t even go to our games down here, to be a spectator, even volunteer my time,” he said.

After 38 years as an assistant baseball coach at Blair County’s best baseball program — no doubt, in part due to him — Nevins said, “It’s been a strange spring.”

He went to the Curve Classic at Peoples Natural Gas Field but could only stay a few innings as Central fans kept approaching, wondering why he wasn’t in uniform.

“I felt awkward, out of place,” he said.

So has the Dragons’ baseball team without him, going an uncharacteristic 10-10 entering the weekend.

“I’m sure it’s affected our season,” fellow assistant baseball coach Dave Hoenstine said. “The players respect him. I felt bad when I saw him in the stands at the Curve Classic, and everybody’s coming around asking him stuff. I thought he should be down here (in the dugout), not up there (in the stands).”

Dissatisfaction deeper

Though the comments he made after the basketball title game were a lightning rod, Nevins knows it’s deeper. He said he’s done nothing illegal or immoral, but he has not connected as well to the current Central administration as he did to past regimes.

He said concerns have been raised about his grasp of technology and procedure. A door left open during a Saturday practice was included on a list of alleged transgressions.

“There were a couple other what seemed like smaller things they brought up that didn’t seem to be that big of a deal, at least to anybody I shared this with,” Nevins, 65, said. “A number of things had to do with technology and paperwork-type things that maybe weren’t done.”

We at the Mirror changed our reporting procedure this year, requiring schools to email their results and box scores, and while Nevins — like many head coaches — wasn’t doing it himself, he delegated it successfully.

“The (other) things they had complaints about were the same things I did forever,” he said. “If they would have told me, I would have gladly adapted.”

Consequently, he was “floored” when it was suggested after the season that his services were no longer wanted and when a school board member he declined to name “told me the game has passed me by.”

“If they feel that way, that’s OK. They’re the bosses. I’d just like to know why,” Nevins said. “We were 18-6 — 18-3 against everybody except Huntingdon. We had two seniors on the team. One had a brace on his elbow three-quarters of the season. I thought we did pretty good. Maybe I was wrong.”

Because most of the top athletes at Central play multiple if not all sports — certainly a positive reflection on the Dragons’ athletic program that, again, includes Nevins — basketball isn’t a big priority in the spring.

But there are summer leagues and camps and planning that’s all on hold at a time when Central’s programs are on solid ground.

“Our basketball is just in disarray,” Nevins said. “Not having a camp for the first time in 32 years. Not in a (summer) league because we don’t know who’s coaching. I was told they might open up all the basketball positions. That’s hard to imagine. Our top four programs (varsity, jayvee, ninth grade and eighth grade) were exceptional. I’d hate to see positions open up. We’d lose some of these coaches, who are fantastic and have been loyal for years and years.”

Family impacted

While Nevins is tired answering questions about himself, he’s more concerned about those around him.

“People keep asking me If I’m OK,” he said. “My life’s not over, but it’s really impacted my family deeply — my wife, my kids, a lot of my friends. My 6-year-old granddaughter ran in the house crying after she heard somebody talking about it the other day.”

Those with the deepest roots in the Cove are the ones most perplexed.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him as a player and a coach and what he’s done for me, he’s done for so many of our young athletes — and not just in the sports he’s coached. You’ll often see him at any of the big games our athletes have — sitting in the outfield at a junior high game,” baseball coach A.J. Hoenstine said. “He’s a big part of what we do and the success we’ve had. He’s done so much for our kids and our school. I just hope things work out. It’s been emotional for a lot of people.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of influential people in my life in sports, and he’s definitely at the top of the list. Our players miss him, and our coaches miss the camaraderie and the game-time decisions.”

There is signage in the Cove supporting him.

“He’s coached three of my sons, and I’ve never had a problem with anything he’s done,” Dave Hoenstine, himself once part of the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, said. “I’ve played and coached with and against him. Coaches say things sometimes after a loss that maybe they shouldn’t have said. A lot of things he’s said, other coaches have thought but haven’t said. But he’s never once belittled his team. A lot of us get ticked off (about site assignments). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying it. What he said in the paper, it’s like you can’t say anything about them — even if you’re right.”

‘Sad for our district’

Baker and whatever administrators or school board members are driving this ought to think long and hard about the damage and long-term division that allowing Nevins’ career to end badly will do in the Cove.

And then they need to answer this: Who has contributed more to Central athletics than Nevins, a 1972 Central graduate who has played and coached at Central for more than 50 years?

Is he perfect? Obviously not, but who is?

Does he need a filter? Sometimes, especially after tough losses.

“I understand what my personality is,” he said.

But is his heart in the right place and is he one smart and crafty coach — a winner in all sports? Do the players respect and appreciate him? There’s no question.

Real leadership would resolve this before May 21, when the public shows up in droves and creates a scene that won’t flatter either side.

“It’s going to upset some people,” Nevins said. “I’m sure they’ll try to upset me and try to make me look as bad as they can. It’s sad for our school district for this to happen. I just want some answers from people that I’ve known my whole life. I thought they felt a certain way about me, and I guess they don’t.”

With the junior high particularly strong, Nevins had previously entertained next year being his last as basketball coach anyway, in part because, he said, “We felt whoever came in would have success.”

He may love baseball even more, thinking he could continue on the diamond indefinitely.

“I thought I’d coach baseball until they didn’t want me anymore,” he said. “I guess this is their answer to that.”

The final twist to this mess is the fact that May 21 just happens to be election day, and maybe Reggie Nevins will be voted out, either that night or shortly thereafter.

If so, the only thing worse than that is the way Central has treated him for the past three months, letting him twist in the wind.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

Spring Cove superintendent

outlines rules of hearing

Spring Cove School District Superintendent Betsy Baker confirmed a hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 21 in the Spring Cove Middle School Auditorium regarding an “employee disciplinary matter.”

Baker said due to confidentiality requirements, she could not release the name of the employee, but Central High School basketball coach Reggie Nevins has confirmed the hearing.

Baker said the proceeding is a public hearing under the Local Agency Law. She said it is not a meeting under the Sunshine Laws, and while the hearing is open to the public, there will be no public comment from those observing the hearing.

“It is a public hearing before the board, not a public meeting,” Baker said.

A stenographer will be present to make a record of the proceeding. The school board will hear all parties’ sides in the case, Baker said.

Baker said it will be determined at the hearing whether the counsel will submit proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and legal argument after the conclusion of the hearing.

She said the board “will eventually convene” after the hearing and render a decision.

The hearing officer will assist the board in drafting an adjudication that contains proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, she said.

Attendees/observers at the hearing are not permitted to audio record or video record the proceedings, but they may otherwise take notes, Baker said.

— From Mirror reports

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