CHARLOTTESVILLE — One after another, people passed around the microphone inside the Eastern Hancock High School cafeteria Monday night. Each voice and story, while different in its own way, expressed a unified message.
“He’s a very important part of this community,” Eastern Hancock football coach Jim O’Hara remarked as the first of nearly a dozen to speak in support of Royals boys basketball coach Aaron Spaulding. “If you love what you do, you can make a tremendous impact. Aaron loves what he does and this community. He’s made an impact.”
Spaulding’s backers banded together and made a profound impression with about 20-plus supporters on hand for the Eastern Hancock County Community School Corporation board meeting. Given 30 minutes to speak for or against Spaulding’s rehiring, the parents, fellow coaches and former players stood firm in their desire to see the coach’s annual contract extended.
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No one spoke in opposition.
Speculation of Spaulding’s removal as the varsity boys basketball coach began circulating last month, which prompted an immediate response. An online petition was started by Angeline Blocher on Change.org and gained nearly 400 signatures after it was activated April 19.
Monday’s school board meeting was moved from the administration building to the high school cafeteria to accommodate the expected crowd. At the school board meeting April 18, a motion to table the rehiring of winter sports coaches was unanimously approved.
Out of respect for Keith Brown, a veteran school bus driver who passed away prior to the next school board meeting May 9, Spaulding’s future remained uncertain for four weeks.
“We understand we put Aaron in a bad position. We’ve talked to him, and we don’t want that to happen to anybody,” Eastern Hancock school board member Scott Petry said to the crowd. “It wasn’t that we felt we had to delay it because we heard both sides, but if something did come up, we wanted to know.”
According to the board, nothing materialized the past few weeks to convince them against rehiring Spaulding, who wasn’t in attendance at either school board meeting.
The long-awaited conclusion came to a close by a 4-1 school board vote to approve the rehiring of all of Eastern Hancock’s winter sports coaches for 2016-17, including Spaulding.
Tom Younts voted against the motion.
The rehiring was initially tabled on April 18 when approximately 25 supporters attended the school board meeting and raised their voices in favor of Spaulding as a silent undercurrent surfaced calling for his removal.
Following Monday’s 4-1 decision, the crowd erupted in applause.
“I heard he could possibly lose his coaching job, and there’s no reason for that. He’s a great coach and a great guy. He should be here as long as he wants to be here,” said Mark Engleking, 25, one of Spaulding’s former players who championed for his rehiring. “I know it’s a year-to-year contract, but there should be no reason it shouldn’t be passed. It shouldn’t be 4-1. It should be 5-0 every year.”
A 2005 graduate of Eastern Hancock, Engleking played basketball for four years and under Spaulding on varsity as a junior and senior before graduating from Franklin College. He works as an accountant at Gannett Co.
“He was hard on me. I loved it though,” Engleking said. “He taught me a lot. One of the quotes I remember was when I would ask, ‘Coach, are you nervous?’ and he would say, ‘No, the only reason you should be nervous is if you’re not prepared, and we’re prepared.’ That’s something I’ve taken from playing for him. Always be prepared no matter what it is in life.”
The board listened to their constituents and weighed the facts. In Spaulding’s 17 seasons at Eastern Hancock, he’s amassed a 188-189 record after replacing Randy Glass in 1999.
After a rough 4-16 first year, Spaulding’s program won a sectional title in his fourth season, posted five consecutive winning campaigns from 2008-12 and reached the 2002-03 Class 2A semistate.
Overall, the Royals have had nine winning seasons and 10 with double digit victories under Spaulding, who played at Olivet Nazarene University and Warren Central alongside future All-American Greg Graham.
“I think there was some level of misunderstanding with the delay,” school board president Jim Jackson Jr. said. “There were many other coaches involved beyond just Mr. Spaulding. We really needed time to think about all of those decisions and gather information in a rather short period of time. There was a little bit of a misunderstanding by some of the folks. That signaled to them that there might be a lot of negatives out there.
“For the board to clearly understand what the community was wanting and to get all of their opinions … With the 30 day delay, we were really able to gather that information.”
According to Petry, the board received information both negative and positive on April 15 before their meeting Monday. To give the subject fair time for evaluation, the board was compelled to table the rehiring and have now asked for opinions on coaching rehires to be expressed at least 30 days prior in the future.
• Aaron Spaulding’s year-by-year boys basketball coaching record at Eastern Hancock
* Regional title in 2002-03
* Sectional titles in 2002-03, 2007-08