Decision in Richmond Heights coaching controversy due Thursday

BY foxsports • February 9, 2011

By Zac Jackson
FOX Sports Ohio
February 9, 2011

UPDATED: Feb. 10, 12:10 A.M.

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- The basketball players at Richmond Heights High School and their parents are prepared to take their ball and go home.

We'll find out Thursday just how this messy situation will be sorted out.

That's when Richmond Heights Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Linda Hardwick, is set to render a decision on how the school will proceed in the wake of accusations against the head basketball coach that include making racist remarks and using profane and inappropriate language towards his players.

What makes the whole thing more complicated is that Richmond Heights is undefeated, ranked sixth in the state in the small-school division by the Associated Press and is days away from the draw for the district tournament, which begins at the end of the month. But the players' threat to not play for coach Jason Popp is serious enough that the school had to postpone its Tuesday night game, and both players and parents seem to have their minds made up that either Popp goes or the players will.

A meeting held Wednesday night involving the players, their parents, Hardwick and coach Jason Popp lasted almost three hours but ended with no resolution. Speaking to assembled media afterwards while clutching a pile of notes and other papers, Hardwick promised a decision Thursday.

She wants to sleep on it, and she admitted she has much to consider. At issue are alleged statements Popp made about the players family backgrounds and economic status, and Hardwick has to take into account factors such as tone and context.

"We heard from the students," Hardwick said. "I'm trying to look at it
fairly. The parents had a chance to ask a bunch of tough questions.
(Popp) had explanations."

Wednesday's meeting was closed to the public. Based on conversations with parents and Hardwick afterwards, it offered the parents first, and later the players, to present their concerns to Popp, and offered Popp a chance to counter them or offer his side.

Popp was not seen entering or leaving the meeting and has deferred comment this week to Hardwick. Parent Rick Early said Popp had an attorney present for the Wednesday meeting, but she did not speak.

Popp, who's spent 16 years working in the district, has been the head basketball coach since 2007 and is also the head of the Richmond Heights teacher's union.

This story hit the news Tuesday, a day after a group of parents presented a letter to Hardwick outlining a series of charges against Popp. The letter alleges Popp used a racial slur during a pregame speech and degraded his players and their family situations on multiple occasions.

Early and several other parents said that Popp admitted to some of his transgressions during Wednesday's meeting but did not apologize. While Early said "we put the allegations on the table, and (Popp) confirmed a lot of them" Hardwick said not "all of (what's been reported or alleged) is factual."

"It's not about denying, it's clarifying," Hardwick said.

Finding an answer to satisfy both sides won't be easy. Popp wants to continue coaching his team, which is 15-0 heading into Friday's rescheduled game. But Early said the players are convinced that they can't give full effort for a man who has berated them and led them to ask for his ouster.

"They've lost faith in him," Early said. "They felt this guy has really broken their spirit."

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