EXCLUSIVE: Mother of PT student involved in initial altercation with Fitzhenry, 'glad he is gone'
POSTED: Saturday, October 26, 2013 - 5:55pm
UPDATED: Monday, October 28, 2013 - 5:45am
Tyler, Texas (KETK) — KETK has been the only news station in East Texas who has covered the controversy concerning now former Athletic Director and head football coach at Pine Tree High School, Derek Fitzhenry, from the beginning.
Although KETK has attempted multiple times to contact Fitzhenry via phone and e-mail for interviews, he has never returned our calls.
The saga begins in the first week of September when Fitzhenry was placed on administrative leave after reports surfaced he had pushed a student during the Pine Tree home opener in their brand new state-of-the-art stadium against Van.
KETK contacted the school district after breaking the story and were provided the following exclusive statement:
"Because this is a personnel issue, the school district is legally and ethically bound not to provide details. The district is, however looking into the issue and it will be addressed at the next regular School Board meeting on Monday, September 9th. No decisions have been made regarding the status of Coach Derek Fitzhenry. Pursuant to board policy at this time, he has been placed on administrative leave."
Offensive Coordinator, Derrick Hennigan, took over the reigns, in light of Fitzhenry's suspension, when the Pirates took on the Center Roughriders.
At the board meeting September 9, after about five and a half hours, the board took "no action." The board went into executive session before adjourning and announcing PTISD Superintendent, Dr. T.J. Farler, would carry out the board's instructions concerning Fitzhenry's fate, Tuesday, September 10.
KETK then broke the story, early September 10, that Fitzhnery was conditionally reinstated by the district, though those conditions were not disclosed.
Later that month, on September 25, KETK once again was first on the story learning three then-current football players, Robert Hines, Tyler Smith and Ladarius Fluellen, had been arrested in June, one for possession of marijuana in a drug free zone and the others were just charged with possession. All three had played in every Pine Tree football game up to that date.
The three did not play in the Lindale game and others up to this point following the report by KETK. The students were sent to the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, also known as DAEP.
But, the scandals continued.
On October 4, Jarvis Walls, played in his first game of the season, against Nacogdoches.
The reason why this raised eyebrows, Walls was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a minor back in May, and according to Gregg County his case is still open. The Kilgore Police Department tells KETK, Walls has been accused of pinning a female down and forcing sex upon her against her will. Allowing Walls to play was against the school's athletic policy.
But, two days before the game, on October 2, KETK documented a change to the online version of the athletic handbook.
At 5:49 p.m., the policy for students and felonies stated that any athlete charged with a felony could not participate in any PTHS events.
But four minutes later, at 5:53 p.m., stipulations were added concerning a five month hearing time and whether or not the student has plead innocent.
When asked about the change the next day, Superintendent Farler said she knew nothing about the change until KETK had contacted her, and said changes are subject to administrative approval. The next day, the policy was changed back.
After KETK attempted to get in contact with Fitzhenry, numerous times, to ask about the policy handbook changes, other media outlets began reporting the former coach admitted to being the party that changed the policy in April 2013 and it was a "clerical error" that prevented the online version from being altered.
On Wednesday, October 9, KETK obtained the original hard-copy of the athletic policy where the "clerical error" theory was quickly disproved as the copy given out to the students at the beginning of the school year stated what the online policy had before Fitzhenry doctored it.
When KETK asked Board President Peck, who has been a trustee member for six years, about how policy changes were made he said, he wasn't sure.
In the midst of the athletic department chaos, former Pine Tree football captain turned Texas A&M student, Tanner Carroll, spoke exclusively with KETK on what he thinks should be done about Fitzhenry:
"Many of my other coaches have yelled at me, maybe even spat a few expletives, but never in the manner Fitzhenry had. Many of those coaches have gained my utmost respect for the way they handled things on and off the field, but Fitzhenry to me always seemed disrespectful. I believe a coach should have good moral standing and treat all players and parents with respect. Many times, I have seen Fitzhenry be demeaning and degrading to other players as well as myself. It’s time to turn around Pine Tree football, but not at the expense of hurting players and losing the true value of why we (at least why I) play football. That is, to build character."
Another school board meeting was held Monday, October 14, where the public was allowed to speak their minds about Fitzhenry.
After taking no action at that meeting, a "special meeting" of the Board of Trustees at Pine Tree Independent School District was held Friday, October 18, at 3:00 p.m., in the PTISD Central Office Boardroom, where the the board announced the resignation of Fitzhenry.
Board President Peck announced the separation shortly after 4:20 p.m. KETK obtained Fizhenry's resignation letter he submitted to Superintendent Farler dated October 16. Fitzhenry claimed he was resigning for "personal reasons."
The school was ordered to pay Fitzhenry $39,024.37 in a lump sum, after making legally required deductions, according to the separation agreement.
The school has agreed to provide a positive job reference for Fitzhenry to his prospective or future employers based on his strengths and accomplishments. This reference will be handled by Board President Peck. In making this reference, no negative comments will be made regarding Fitzhenry, including why he was placed on administrative leave and underlying allegations.
The school also agreed to remove any negative documentation from Fitzhenry's personnel file. They also will not report him nor his resignation to the Texas Education Agency or the State Board for Education Certification.
Hennigan is again serving as interim Athletic Director and head coach.
Fitzheny reached out to our newspaper partners, The Longview News-Journal, about his resignation and his time at Pine Tree.
He told them he’s been lied to, lied about and “crucified” for events that were misconstrued. Fitzhenry blamed an atmosphere of secrecy created by the district, with officials failing to confirm fact or deny fiction, for the three-month saga that led to his departure. And he said what district officials told him in private failed to match what they later said in public.
In regards to the August 30 incident that sparked Fitzhenry's last days at Pine Tree being overshadowed by scandals, he told the Longview News-Journal, it began as he entered the locker room to talk to some students who were “cutting up.” He said his intent was to remind them they needed to focus on the task ahead of them which was the football game:
“As I was walking through the door, another student walked through the door very quickly. I braced myself and I used my forearm to move the student to the side.” Then he took the student by the shoulders and told him to listen to what he was about to say."
But, he said, the situation never escalated to him throwing or shoving a student, as rumors would have it. He also claimed the student who he allegedly shoved said his parents told him it was never their intention to let things escalate as they did.
KETK reached out to the mother of the student involved in the incident to see what she had to say in response to Fitzhenry's interview:
"My son was asked to go get a medical bag out of the locker room for the trainers to use. When he entered the room, Fitzhenry was walking out and grabbed my son by the arms and pushed him out the door. When he did this, he also hit a female trainer and almost knocked her over. I have four witness statements from that incident and was given a public apology by Fitzhenry for the incident. We never told Ftizhenry we did not mean for things to escalate. He told us that. He also stated he let things get out of hand and admitted to being too physical with my son. While we accepted his apology, our son did not want to be anywhere near Fitzhenry, by himself, after that incident. My son's case was not the only thing that happened that night. Fitzhenry claimed in media interviews he can't explain the agony he and his family are going through. Look at what we have been through. My son was bullied and threatened daily because we, as his parents, spoke out against the former coach. I am thrilled Fitzhenry is gone now. If it weren't for certain faculty members, my son couldn't have done it. I am grateful for those people who helped him through this. I am not trying to re-hash everything that has gone on, but people need to know our side of the story. We are the real victims in this situation, not him. I'm just glad it is all over now."
The mother of the student also thanked KETK for being the only news outlet she can trust and once again reiterated, she is glad the whole situation is over.
KETK received numerous calls over the past three months from people who had witnessed what they called "shocking" actions by Fitzhenry. These instances include everything from degrading and cursing at athletes and staff members, both privately and publicly, to denying students medical treatment after injuries.
KETK will continue to update information on this story if and when it comes to light.