In handing down its decision last Friday, the Eldon School Board will allow Jimmy Lincoln to continue coaching the high school boys’ basketball team for at least one more year.
But Lincoln won’t be on the sideline when the Mustangs open the season.
As part of the school board’s ruling, the coach will be suspended for five games.
When asked if the suspension applied to the first five games of the season, Superintendent Matt Davis said, “That’s what I understand.”
Lincoln has 15 days from Friday, when he received notice of the board’s decision, to file an appeal to the Miller County Circuit Court.
Lincoln had signed a new one-year contract in May. But in June, he was asked to resign after an investigation by Davis into alleged incidents that took place at a summer shootout in Osage. Lincoln refused to resign, and it was game on.
At a termination hearing July 31 – held at Lincoln’s request – Davis testified he had evidence that Lincoln elbowed an opposing player as players and coaches shook hands after a game at the Osage shootout. Also at the termination hearing, attorneys for the school district claimed Lincoln used profanity on three separate occasions at the same tournament. At last week’s hearing, Lincoln admitted to using profanity in two of the cases, but denied the third profanity incident, and he denied elbowing the player.
In addition to the suspension, the school board notified Lincoln that a letter of reprimand would go in his personnel file and the coach would be asked to sign and abide by a code of conduct. It is unknown if the code of conduct is specific to Lincoln, or applies across the board to all coaches.
“If it’s just me, it’s very obvious it’s a witch hunt,” Lincoln said.
While the school board’s reprimand and code of conduct didn’t come as a surprise to the coach – who admitted at the hearing he was wrong for using profanity – the suspension did.
“That was totally unexpected,” said Lincoln, who has been the Mustang coach for the past three seasons.
More than anything, the suspension will affect the players, Lincoln said.
“The kids understand how this could potentially affect their whole season,” Lincoln said. “And they don’t understand why. It (the suspension) affects the seeding at tournaments; it affects the entire season, because there’s a cloud over the first half of the season. Will I coach them in practice and not show up for games? It’s not fair to the kids.”
“We’ve had some of the players call (since the school board ruling),” said Jimmy Lincoln’s wife, Jera.
“They are very concerned. They wanted to know how Jimmy was doing.”
Page 2 of 3 - Several current and former EHS players were in the crowd at last week’s hearing. Between 150 and 200 people attended the hearing, moved to the Eldon Middle School gym to accommodate the crowd. The hearing lasted nearly nine hours, with both sides having a chance to call witnesses to testify.
Steve Randall, father of EHS basketball player Blake Randall, attended the hearing, along with his wife, Toni, and son Blake. Steve Randall said he had mixed emotions about the school board’s decision.
“The news was bittersweet. We were relieved that Coach Lincoln would be coaching next year, but felt the five-game suspension was excessive for using profanity twice, because that is the only allegation that carried any merit after hearing both sides at the hearing. I in no way condone the use of profanity but I also realize we are human and each one of us makes mistakes,” Steve Randall said.
“One positive from this experience is Coach Lincoln has taught our son and others how to handle yourself in challenging situations and to stand up for yourself when you know you are standing for the truth,” Randall said. “Coach Lincoln also showed that it is necessary to take responsibility for your actions, even if it is not required by others.”
There was conflicting testimony at last week’s hearing about the alleged elbowing incident. School district attorneys submitted a handwritten statement from a player on a summer team from Texas, who claimed the Eldon coach elbowed him after a game at the Osage shootout. Lincoln has denied the charge and testified the player shoved him.
“What bothers him the most is being accused of hitting a child,” Lincoln’s attorney, Mike McDorman, said at the hearing.
Harry Naught, Eldon business leader, who attended last week’s hearing, said of the school district’s investigation into the alleged incidents at the Osage shootout, “I was disappointed that the school administration chose not to seek the truth as seen by Eldon’s players and assistant coaches that witnessed what actually happened.”
Eldon basketball player Beau Roseblock and sideline assistants John Hall and Don Pollock testified at the hearing they didn’t see Lincoln elbow the player from the Texas team. Superintendent Davis testified at the hearing that as part of his investigation he didn’t question any members of the Eldon basketball team or any of the assistant coaches who were at the Osage shootout.
“What is Coach Lincoln being punished for? I think we all have a right to know, does the punishment fit the offense?” Steve Randall said in reaction to the school board’s decision. “My opinion is that his name needs to publicly cleared of striking a student. All this being said, good luck Coach Lincoln and the Mustangs. We will be in the stands cheering.”
Page 3 of 3 - While Lincoln, who left on vacation Friday, was waiting on more information about the suspension and the school board’s ruling, the coach expressed gratitude for the support he has received from the community.
“I appreciate all the community support, even from people I don’t even know,” Lincoln said. “I’ve had so many calls and texts. I know a lot of people are upset and they feel like I proved my innocence (at the hearing). This is upsetting to them. I’ve had more support since the ruling … literally a flood. It’s been awesome.”