In a move that stunned Howard High School administrators, players and parents, the Board of Education voted, 3-2, yesterday to overturn the hiring of Lions boys basketball coach Derrick Dunlap and give the job to Greg Smith, a special education teacher at the Ellicott City school.
"We're heartbroken," said senior captain LaMar Parrish. "He's not only teaching us about basketball, he's teaching us about life. The whole team wants him back and so do the parents."
Dunlap, a Washington, D.C., fifth-grade teacher at Burnie Elementary, had been running the team since being hired by Howard principal Mary Day in August. But Smith, who coached the JV for the past two seasons, but was not involved with the program this winter, appealed Dunlap's hiring to superintendent John O'Rourke in November, claiming several of the county's hiring procedures had not been followed.
According to county policy, teachers working in the school are given priority during the hiring of coaches. However, the acceptability of each candidate is left to the principal. O'Rourke supported Day's decision to hire Dunlap, but Smith again took his appeal to the board of education, which voted yesterday to overturn O'Rourke's ruling.
"This is highly unusual," said Don Disney, Howard County's coordinator of athletics. "I can't remember anything like this happening in the 16 years I've been here."
Howard, which won its season opener over Wilde Lake on Friday, was scheduled to play South Carroll last night, but the game was postponed by Day because the team was upset over the decision.
Dunlap called the board's decision "unbelievable. I'm just worried about the kids. Right when we were starting to work together and get things going, they take it away from us."
Howard parent Phyllis Parish agreed: "It's just a shame that they're doing this to these kids. It's real sad. They've bonded with this coach, and now they've pulled the rug from underneath them."
"I would have not liked to have done this to the kids," said board chairman Jane Schuchardt, who voted to retain Dunlap. "It very traumatic and very difficult. I don't know of any other steps that can be taken so we have to assume this is final."