LEWISBURG — During a special meeting Wednesday of the Greenbrier County Board of Education to discuss the county’s COVID-19 policy, the talk turned to Gov. Jim Justice and his bid to again become a high school boys basketball coach.
Discussion of the Greenbrier East High School coaching vacancy was not on the board’s agenda, but that didn’t stop three of the five people who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period from voicing opposition to the governor’s proposed hiring.
Greenbrier County resident Cindi Cole told the board she thinks the decision to hire Justice is a question of ethics.
“I look at the board and just wonder, do we have any ethics violations within the board; which means, are you doing work for Mr. Justice? Are you neighbors with Mr. Justice?” Cole asked.
Greenbrier County Schools superintendent Jeff Bryant told the Gazette-Mail on Tuesday that his being entertainment director at The Greenbrier resort, which Justice owns, doesn’t interfere with his work for Greenbrier County Schools. Mike Wyatt, husband of Greenbrier Board of Education President Jeanie Wyatt, is a photographer based at The Greenbrier. Mike Wyatt emailed the Gazette-Mail Wednesday evening to clarify that he has owned Greenbrier Photography since 1992 and currently rents space at The Greenbrier.
“I’ve heard the voting was done and things came out unfavorable, so it was tabled,” Cole said. “That, within itself, gives it up to a feeling that things aren’t being done correctly.”
On Aug. 10, the board voted to delay considering Bryant’s recommendation to hire Justice, after spending 90 minutes in executive session. Justice, who has been the Greenbrier East girls basketball coach since 2000, also coached the boys team from 2010-2017.
Two board members, Kay Smith and Hazel Reed, previously voted against hiring Justice for the job, in 2010. Board member Rick Parker said last week that he plans to vote against hiring Justice.
Stephanie Lilly, who also spoke against mandating masks or vaccines for students, said Justice is among the most at-risk to contract COVID-19. She said that, for him to be in gymnasiums coaching basketball games, puts him further at-risk of being exposed to the virus.
“How — why is it that the governor of West Virginia in the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918 — how was he ever even considered for the first basketball coaching job, much less the second head boys basketball job for a AAAA school?” Lilly asked. “Please explain this process.”
Lilly also pointed out that the governor would have to spend five hours a day commuting between Charleston and Lewisburg with West Virginia State Police escorts to make practices each day during the girls and boys basketball seasons, which typically begin in November and end in March.
Kerry Gabbert, another Greenbrier parent, asked the board to think of the children and what kind of coach they deserve, particularly during a pandemic that has drastically altered their typical school and social experiences.
While sports aren’t the “end all, be all,” Gabbert said she appreciates the community and character building that athletics provides to children, saying student-athletes and their coaches represent everyone in Greenbrier County.
“It’s a big deal, and the people who run the teams and the kids who are on the teams represent the best of what we have to offer,” Gabbert said. “We’re still in a pandemic. What do these kids deserve for a coach this year? Do they deserve someone who’s going to be there at the practices? If you were teaching a math class, and a child said, ‘I’m not going to come to class. I’m just going to show up for the tests,’ how would you feel about that?”
Gabbert went so far as to ask how Justice would decide which team to coach when Greenbrier East’s boys and girls games fall on the same day, or when he had obligations during the Legislature’s regular session, which takes place from January to March next year.
“With everything that our kids have gone through and everything they have lost because of the pandemic, this is our opportunity to be here for them and show them that, even though some things have changed, that they still matter and that they still deserve the best of what we have to offer,” Gabbert said.
Board members are scheduled to vote on Bryant’s recommendation to hire Justice during their next meeting, on Monday.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the name of one of the Greenbrier County Board of Education members who previously voted against hiring Gov. Jim Justice as boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School in 2010.