LEWISBURG — At least a dozen people on Tuesday asked the Greenbrier Board of Education to vote to hire Gov. Jim Justice as the boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School, even though hiring Justice, or anyone else, for the job was not on the board’s agenda.
The Greenbrier Board of Education convened for a regular meeting Tuesday evening and adopted all of the personnel recommendations from Superintendent Jeff Bryant, but the governor’s name wasn’t on the list.
People speaking in support of the board hiring Justice took up about an hour of the 75-minute meeting in the Kyle & Ann Fort Arts and Sciences Center on the Lewisburg campus of New River Community and Technical College.
Board President Jeannie Wyatt said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting that the board’s next meeting will not include a personnel agenda.
The comments during Tuesday’s meeting were part of an ongoing back-and-forth as to whether to hire Justice as the boys’ basketball coach. The events publicly began to unfold last month when the recommendation to hire Justice for the job was on the board’s agenda during its Aug. 11 meeting.
Among the people who spoke in support of hiring Justice on Tuesday were Holly Jo Gillespie, vice president of The Greenbrier, which Justice owns, and Rodney Weikle, who was on the payroll of Justice’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign, according to at least one filing with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
Gillespie played on Greenbrier East’s girls basketball team for Justice before he was governor. A 2019 article from Golf Kitchen Magazine, published on its website, identifies her as a vice president at The Greenbrier, alongside Justice’s daughter, Jillean Justice-Long. Justice-Long is president at The Greenbrier and also played basketball for her father at Greenbrier East.
“I say coach. I don’t say Gov. Justice,” Gillespie said. “We need to put the politics aside. It’s about the kids. In my opinion — I don’t even know who the other applicants are. I have no idea. I just know that he truly, truly cares about the kids.”
Gillespie and at least three other former players who talked about playing for Justice said he would have a “story time” during practice where they said he imparted a lot of life lessons.
“For me, the thing we took out of it was wisdom,” said former Greenbrier East player Rondale Watson, who went on to play basketball at Wake Forest University and Marshall University. “I just know that what they were telling us was not just about basketball, they were lessons for the rest of our life.”
Speakers consistently talked about how Justice had paid for everything from meals and hotel rooms for entire teams during basketball tournaments to Christmas gifts for the community and medical treatments for former players.
Misty Hill, mother of Autumn Hill, who played for Greenbrier East and earned an athletic scholarship to Glenville State University, praised Justice for moral support he provided Autumn Hill while she experienced health issues that extended well past her time at Greenbrier East.
“We carry this,” Hill said. “Our children carry this, and you guys have a duty on what you vote on and the choice you make. Your duty is to separate this from politics or how you feel or maybe someone didn’t like somebody. You have a duty to these children.”
After the board rejected the recommendation to hire Justice on Aug. 23, Justice used the last minutes of his regular COVID-19 briefing that day to respond to the board’s vote, saying “everyone unanimously recommended me for the job.” He said the board’s vote “came down with just that ugliness of personal preference or political preference.”
John Sams, a Greenbrier County resident, went on to say he trusted the process of interviews and the people who made the recommendation to hire Justice — including Greenbrier East Principal Ben Routson and Bryant.
He questioned why the board voted against that recommendation.
“I have to question, are they incompetent?” Sams said. “Do they feel incompetent in our principal, our athletic director, and our superintendent who recommended him? They are the ones that has to deal with this coach on a daily basis. Me? I don’t get it.”
The speakers also talked about Justice’s coaching history, which Routson also brought up on Aug. 17 when he said Justice was the “obvious choice” out of the six people who applied to be Greenbrier East boys basketball coach.
“Some of the main concerns I’ve heard have been, people were concerned that he’s not a full-time coach,” said Lewisburg resident Doug Canterbury, who said he watched Justice as a coach. “Let me tell you, being around when he was coaching both teams and doing his job and running companies and everything, he pours his heart and soul into coaching probably more than he does into his work because he is a full-time coach.”
Parents of Greenbrier East students and one Greenbrier East student, who said he was speaking on behalf of his basketball teammates, asked the board to hire a coach who would be there on a full-time basis, including during practice.
Those who spoke against hiring Justice at previous board meetings have not questioned Justice’s record as a coach or whether he cared about the children, but they all referred to comments Justice made to West Virginia MetroNews on Aug. 11.
“At my age, I’ll have to have great assistant coaches. And to be perfectly honest, they’ll have to do the work. I’ll coach the game,” the governor told MetroNews. “Nevertheless, I love the kids. That’s all there is to it.”
At the same time Justice gave the interview, the board voted to delay its vote on whether to hire Justice.
The board rejected the recommendation to hire Justice in a 3-2 vote on Aug. 23.
Other people who spoke against hiring Justice made reference to potential ethical issues, including Bryant working as entertainment director at The Greenbrier and Board President Wyatt, whose husband, Mike Wyatt, owns Greenbrier Photography and leases space for that business in The Greenbrier.
Bryant has not made any other recommendations for the Greenbrier East boys basketball coaching position.