Linton basketball fans cheering on the Miners at the Southport Semistate in March.
It has been an eventful four months in Linton for its basketball team — on and off the court — and hopefully, things will start to slow down.
Linton is a small town that is passionate about its athletic teams. Sometimes that passion can lead to divisions like it did these past four months.
The Linton-Stockton Board of School Trustees made the decision Monday not to renew the contract of boys varsity basketball coach Joey Hart. The decision came after the basketball team finished its tournament run at the 2A title game and after Hart was suspended for a second time this season.
Both suspensions came from different arrests involving alcohol in two different counties.
Each suspension divided the community and fan base. I’ve had a front row seat to witness how polarizing everything became. I believe if you were to ask three random people in Linton on how everything played out surrounding the decision to suspend and keep, and ultimately to dismiss the coach, you would get three different answers. Somehow, it became you are either on Team Hart or Team Anti-Hart.
Now it’s time to reflect on what can be learned from this and what happens next. There are three outcomes I hope take place.
First, I want to see the Linton community move on and not be divided on the coaching situation. It is possible to appreciate what Coach Hart has done for the program the past 13 seasons while also understanding why a coaching change is taking place.
Second, I want to see the Linton community be patient with the new coach and give them time to establish their program and style of play. Contrary to what rival schools are thinking, Linton basketball is not going to fall off a cliff the next five years. Paul Oliver and Jackson Miller had great freshman seasons and will be leaders in SWIAC play the next three years. Linton still has the best strength and conditioning program in the area and that’s not hyperbole. Sure, a team will regress when an Indiana All-Star and other quality players graduate, but Linton will still compete for a sectional title next year and perhaps more.
Third, I hope Linton-Stockton and other school districts can use what happened with Hart and his legal issues as a learning experience for similar situations in the future.
I asked Superintendent Kathy Goad on Monday what went into the investigation following Hart’s first arrest.
“We looked at everything that was available for that,” Goad said. “We do a thorough investigation so that we can gain as much information that we can about any particular situation.”
Goad did not go into specifics as to what the investigation from the arrests entailed, and that’s understandable. Personnel issues are never talked about in public. I do hope the school viewed the police body camera videos and contacted the arresting officers. I encourage other school districts to do the same if presented with the same issue.
The Daily World did obtain the police body camera video of both arrests and we did watch both incidents. The decision was made not to make the videos public (though they are public record), and potentially making a difficult situation worse. The players didn’t need that additional burden. But the videos were eye-opening. If school officials did view them before any decisions were made, it would be easy to understand why they did what they did.
I am glad the school took some time after the season to vote on the non-renewal of Coach Hart’s contract. Monday, I felt the school had the time it needed to make an informed decision.
Hart will be missed on the basketball court. Former players speak highly of him and it is easy to understand why. Every basketball fan in the state is wishing him the best and I am one of them.
I hope fans will no longer be separated into pro and con camps about Coach Joey Hart. The decision has been made and it is time to support the players and the new coach next season.
Nathan Pace is the Sports Editor of the Greene County Daily World and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org