Highland Home coach relieved of coaching duties

Published 11:41 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

By Shane Dunaway

Crenshaw County Superintendent Dodd Hawthorne informed Highland High School varsity boys basketball coach Johnny Mitchell he was being relieved of his coaching duties via email Wednesday.

Hawthorne confirmed Mitchell had been let go, but noted Mitchell, who was tenured, would remain as part of Highland Home’s educational staff.

“Obviously, with a personnel matter, we can’t get into the discussion of why, but certainly, this decision was made in what we thought was the best decision for Highland Home School, our students and our athletic programs,” he said. “That’s where we’re at with it. It’s unfortunate … It’s never a good time to make these kinds of moves, but certainly we felt like it was in the best interest of Highland Home and the athletic programs up here.”

Mitchell, who also coached as an assistant for football and softball, guided the Flying Squadron to a 27-6 record in Class 2A, went undefeated in Area 5 play and advanced to the state semifinals, where his team fell to Mars Hill Bible, 64-62.

Community response regarding the unanticipated personnel action came swiftly via the launch of a Facebook group entitled “Reinstate Johnny Mitchell at Highland Home.”

In a post made by Jessica Evans, what appears to be an email sent by Mitchell expressing his concerns and complaints regarding changes to his teaching responsibilities and coaching schedule was shared in the public group. 

Among the concerns addressed by Mitchell were being moved from his physical education job to another position teaching six periods a day, removing his athletic period, cutting the summer practice schedule and being told he wasn’t allowed to start practice during seventh period.

“It has become apparent to me and many others that all this is a plan to get me to leave,” Mitchell said in the email. “I have been told by the county athletic director, coaches from other county schools and several of our own staff that the current administration wanted to push me out and I was better off to leave at the end of the year.

“That would normally not be enough to push me, but with taking away my ability to run a successful program, it will hurt me and the kids. If nothing changes, I will be leaving at the end of the year to find a job where they care about the athletic program and the hard work that I put in.”

He added in the email he was sad to have come to that determination.

“I have put in countless hours to make this school better, and love these kids and the community, but the decisions currently being made are destroying what we have built.”

Mitchell confirmed the email was his, but declined to comment on the record.

As of 10:23 a.m. Thursday, 259 community members had joined the Facebook group.

“This makes my heart hurt,” said Daphne Laine Cobb, of Spring Creek. “This man really is the best thing Highland Home athletics has ever had. Makes me really disappointed and really sad. He had a huge influence on sending my child to HH. I hate this for us as a community and a school system.”

Hawthorne said neither he nor the board would get involved in what’s being shared on social media.

“Certainly, we understand things like this happen and people are upset because relationships have been formed, but there again, we’ve got to go back to making decisions that we feel are best for the school, the athletic program and the students,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne said it may take up to a full year to find a permanent replacement for Mitchell.

“The situation we’re looking at right now is putting an interim coach in place, somebody that’s currently on staff,” Hawthorne said. “We’re not ready to name that person yet, but we’re just looking at an interim coach in the immediate time frame. Then, we will go from there as far as looking for that next person to lead the basketball program.”