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JV board reopens positions

The Juniata Valley School District Board of Education surprised many people in the Alexandria community and area basketball scene by opening both its boys and girls head coaching positions in March.

Following Wednesday’s June meeting, both positions remain empty despite a bizarre couple of months in which recommendations to rehire both ex-boys coach T.J. Anderson and girls coach Rachelle Hopsicker were submitted to the board but never voted on.

Anderson was interviewed on May 19 by the school, and the recommendation was submitted to rehire him. However, Anderson instead accepted the head boys basketball coaching position at Philipsburg-Osceola, where he was hired on May 26.

A recommendation to re-hire Hopsicker for the 2020-2021 school year as the girls basketball coach was on Wednesday’s agenda, and Juniata Valley athletic director Wes Lyons confirmed Hopsicker was the recommended candidate Wednesday afternoon. When the meeting started, however, the agenda was amended to remove the Hopsicker recommendation and a motion was made to once again publicly post both the boys and girls basketball positions.

“I was emailed (in March) by the athletic director that the Juniata Valley board had voted to open the basketball coaching positions,” Hopsicker said. “I was told I was welcome to apply, but there were no guarantees that I would be offered the position or be able to continue coaching the girls basketball team. So, with no guarantees to be able to keep coaching at JV, I did pursue options which continue to unfold at this point. I have not come to a conclusion yet. There are certain pros and cons that affect my family in all my options as well as the Juniata Valley coaching job. I respectfully requested additional time to consider all my options with my family before making my decision to accept or not accept the offer at Juniata Valley.”

Hopsicker said she was not aware that Juniata Valley would be recommending her for the job as she pursued other options and that she took the fact that the school reopened the position as a sign that her request for more time to make a decision had not been granted.

“They opened the job back up, so I guess that means they don’t want me,” Hopsicker said. “They told me they would be back in touch, and then they opened the job.”

Originally, June 10 was the date the school had set to have both coaching positions filled, but Lyons confirmed earlier Wednesday that the boys job would remain open for the time being.

“We won’t be presenting anyone for approval for the boys job,” said Lyons, who confirmed Anderson’s statement when he was hired by Philipsburg-Osceola that he was offered the Juniata Valley boys basketball job. “We want to get a boys coach as soon as we can, but it has to be someone we feel comfortable with. Obviously, basketball season isn’t the No. 1 thing we have going on right now. It’s still important, and we want to get it in place. As soon as we find the person that can do the job, we’ll present it to the board and hopefully go from there.”

During the public comment part of the meeting, a representative of the JV Stingers program, Tracey Cook, spoke about the community’s confusion about the process.

“When approached by people throughout the community asking why the administration posted these two head basketball coaching jobs at JV, I really had no answer for them,” Cook said. “When I asked the administration why these positions were posted, the answer was to make sure that we had the best experience and best coach for our school. As a parent of a basketball player, I am glad that is what they wanted for us. But I didn’t understand why they didn’t already see that Coach Anderson was the best coach and he was providing the best experience for our children and our community.”

Lyons was asked by the Mirror earlier Wednesday why the positions were originally opened, something that did not happen with any of the other coaching positions at the school and is not an annual process as it is at other schools.

“There wasn’t really a reason we went about it this way,” Lyons said. “I know it seems unorthodox. We had some conversations, and it just kind of led to us making sure that we had the right people for those two jobs.”

Hopsicker, who has a freshman daughter coming into the program, said she intended to stay with the team “forever” and that the specific reason for opening the jobs was never revealed to her.

“I’m heartbroken in the way things were handled,” Hopsicker said. “I really don’t know (why the positions were opened). I really haven’t had that much communication. I don’t have any answers. I’m hurt. I love what I do here, and I think the value that I bring to Juniata Valley is important. I know the community supports me, I know my players support me, I know the teachers support me, and I know the parents support me. I don’t know if there’s anything else that I could be doing to do better.”

Cook expressed concern that the way the coaching situation was handled may mean future coaches avoid working for the school and asked the board to investigate the process and how it was handled.

“This situation makes no sense to me. We lost the coach we loved and respected,” Cook said. “In addition to the children losing their coach, the school lost the Stingers program, the AAU program and all the countless opportunities and special coaching ability that Coach Anderson provided to our kids.”

Hopsicker has served as the girls coach for the past nine seasons, and Anderson had been the boys coach for six years.

Following the death of previous girls coach Jama Greene, Hopsicker turned JV into a state power and went 162-62 in her time as head coach. Hopsicker led the Lady Hornets to a District 6 Class 1A title in 2018, and Juniata Valley finished as the PIAA Class 1A runner-up in both 2017 and 2018.

Anderson resurrected a struggling Juniata Valley boys team and led them to the second round of the PIAA tournament in 2017 and a District 6 Class 1A title in 2019.

“I have been blessed, and it’s been a blessing and an honor to be part of this,” Hopsicker said. “I can’t say enough about how much fun and how much I think the world is a better place because we were all in it together. I know these kids are going to leave and be amazing kids. I think it had a lot to do with what we were doing in our program.”

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