In an earlier, less perfect world, we wouldn’t be texting about it. Journalists wouldn’t be reporting on it. I certainly wouldn’t be writing a column about it. It probably would never have happened at all. But here we are.
The reality is that we still don’t know exactly what happened in that gym in tiny Hantsport, Nova Scotia (population 1,542), on the day after Valentine’s Day, or why what happened next transformed a seemingly inconsequential incident into a community cause célèbre.
Let’s start with what we do know about what happened in the gym that day, which comes mostly from what Brandon MacInnis, the then-but-not-now volunteer coach of the Hantsport School junior high boys basketball team, told the CBC.
But before we go there, a word or two about MacInnis himself. According to a report in Saltwire, MacInnis grew up in Hantsport. In high school, he was a member of the Horton High Griffins basketball team that won a provincial championship. After graduating in 2007, he spent two years at Crandall University, a Christian college in Moncton, where he also played basketball.
Twelve years ago, he returned to his hometown and transitioned from player to coach. “I had no idea what I started when I walked into the gym with a bunch of kids all under the age of eight,” he posted recently on Facebook. “The joy, excitement and happiness that would come across a kid’s face when they accomplished something that they might not have been able to do just 15 minutes prior sparked a different love for the game that I didn’t know was there.”
MacInnis has since become a fixture in the local basketball community. He’s a past president of the Hantsport Minor Basketball Association and has coached virtually every level of under-16 boys’ and girls’ basketball. According to Saltwire, “MacInnis currently coaches the U12 girls with the Axe Basketball Club program in the Annapolis Valley, and also the U16 boys Valley Spartans of the Metro Basketball Association.”
On February 15, his boys’ junior high school basketball team gathered for practice in the school gym to prepare for their first quarterfinal playoff game the next day at King’s County Academy.
At least one of the teenaged boys — as teenaged boys are wont to do — goofed around in the locker room, delaying the beginning of practice for the others.
Coach MacInnis, who had long emphasized to his players the importance of showing up on time for practices, decided to hold the boys “accountable for their actions” — as coaches have also been wont to do for forever. He got the team to line up on the baseline of the gym and run up and down the gym floor. Line drills, they’re called. They happen. No big deal.
According to the CBC report, in fact, “none of the players complained and the rest of the practice went off without a hitch, [MacInnis] said. Players left the court pumped up for their first playoff game, set for the next day.”
But two hours before game time, the school’s principal, Jan Routledge, and vice principal, Ian Morrison, called MacInnis in to tell him not only that they didn’t agree with his disciplinary measures but also that he had been dismissed as head coach. No discussion. No appeal.
“If I did something wrong,” MacInnis told Saltwire, “I would like to be coached through that situation. How can I make myself better? If I’m doing something wrong, let me know how I can better myself so that situation doesn’t happen.”
That didn’t happen.
“The only real reason that I was given was I was not allowed to hold a group accountable, which in this case, would be a team, for the actions of a single person, which would be another player,” he told Satwire.
“They told me that it was in the best interest of the kids that I was no longer going to be needed as their head coach and to turn in my keys.”
What happened? Perhaps a few parents or the students themselves had complained about what happened in the gym the day before…
Or perhaps — more likely — the administrators simply blindly followed some bureaucratic zero-tolerance policy past its common-sense boundaries.
Bullying by coaches should never be tolerated. And we’ve seen more than enough evidence of that happening at all levels of sport. But if what we know so far is true, that’s not what happened here. A coach who had made his reasonable expectations plain to his team held a few boys to account in a minor way for their minor transgression of the rules. End of story. Back to practice.
Is there more to this than everything we have heard so far from the coach, parents, players?
We don’t know because the school administrators haven’t spoken publicly about any of it. Neither has the local centre for education. Saltwire’s Carole Morris-Underhill did ask.
Kristen Loyst, the communications and FOIPOP officer for the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education, said in an email that after speaking with Hantsport School administration, she could confirm a volunteer coach with the extracurricular Grade 6 to 8 boys’ basketball team was no longer with the team.
“The regular basketball season has finished. Like all schools in our region, Hantsport School understands the importance of extracurricular sports to students and families and is working to have a volunteer coach in place for the boys’ basketball team next season,” Loyst wrote.
Questions pertaining to why MacInnis was no longer the head coach, or how the decision was relayed to parents, were not answered.
But there are a few other things we do know — and they raise more questions about the administrators and their bosses than they do about MacInnis and the students.
When the boys on the junior high team learned their coach had been fired, they chose not to play the playoff game without him and lost by forfeit. Principle. An inadvertent but important lesson.
When Coach MacInnis showed up at a girls’ team playoff game a few days later, members of the boys’ team, who were in attendance, “went over and gave him hugs, and the crowd attending the game gave him a standing ovation. Members of the girls’ team wore white patches on their uniforms with the letter ‘B’ to honour Brandon.”
Parents, who say the school didn’t notify them about what had happened or why, have also rallied to his side.
“Brandon is a wonderful human,” says Jamie Harvey whose son has played on MacInnis-coached teams since primary and who launched a locally trending social media campaign to support the coach. “He has the greatest sense of humour. He’s so patient with the kids — like he used to end the Tiny Tots practices by picking the boys up so they could dunk,” she continued. “He’s anything you could ever want in a coach and a friend.”
The school’s administrators and Annapolis Valley’s regional centre for education need to explain themselves. To MacInnis, to the parents, to the students.
Like the students who had to do line drills for being late to practice, they need to account for themselves and their decisions.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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