Mike Lewis, the popular boys basketball coach at Lawrence High School whose firing last week ignited public outcry at a school board meeting, has been reinstated as the head coach, Lawrence school district officials announced Friday.
That announcement came after district and LHS administrators — at the urging of the Lawrence school board — agreed to meet with Lewis and reconsider his status as the coach.
“The school board really thought we needed to look into this further and initiate some conversations, which is what happened,” school board President Rick Ingram said. “And we’re pretty pleased with the result. At least I am.”
According to a news release issued by the district, however, LHS athletic director Bill DeWitt and principal Matt Brungardt indicated they still have unspecified concerns about the management of the boys basketball program. But they also said those concerns, “could be remedied with action short of non-extension” of Lewis’ contract.
“All parties agreed that an extension of Lewis’s coaching assignment is in the best interest of students and the basketball program,” the district said in the news release.
Lewis said he accepted the decision.
“After conversations with the district and school administration, I better understand the areas I need to improve on as a coach, and I’m definitely willing to work on those areas,” Lewis said in the news release. “I’m excited for the opportunity to continue to work with Lawrence High basketball.”
Lewis, whose team finished the 2013-2014 season with a 17-5 record, was told April 28 that his coaching contract would not be renewed for next year. That decision would not have affected his primary contract as a physical education teacher at Southwest Middle School.
In interviews with the Journal-World, Lewis said that after a performance review at the end of the season, he was told, “Lawrence High School wanted to go in a different direction, and I’m not going to be the basketball coach anymore.”
The firing prompted an angry outcry from LHS players, their parents, other students and fans of the basketball team, many of whom packed into the administration building the following Monday to vent their feelings and urge the Lawrence school board to reconsider the decision.
“This (firing) happened just a few days before the school board meeting and we were unprepared for what happened on Monday night,” Ingram said. “We knew people were going to show up, but we didn’t expect the passion of those people. That certainly made a difference for me.”
Ingram said conversations among board members began “almost immediately” after the board meeting, and there was general agreement among all seven board members that the matter needed further review.
Superintendent Rick Doll blamed the controversy in part on what he called a flawed system of evaluating athletic coaches.
“The crux of this is that the document the district currently uses to evaluate coaches is not a good tool for feedback,” Doll said. “That’s a systems flaw, one that the district needs to correct.”
Several players on the team said they heard about Lewis’ reinstatement through text messages shortly before the official announcement was made. They said they were pleased with the decision.
Sophomore Fred Brou said his mom called him around 3:45 p.m. while he was with a bunch of teammates. They all found out around the same time from their parents
“We’re just really happy, really relieved that the right thing was done,” Brou said. “Once we all figured out what was going on, (teammate) Anthony Harvey texted me. I was just really excited. It got pretty loud around us, but I’m happy that justice was done. It was really relieving.”
“I’m just so happy that the people actually listened to us,” Harvey said. “I know the assistant principals and (school board) listened to us, listened to the parents and listened to the community that we love coach Lewis. We know he loves us all and he wants to make us better people, not just basketball players.”
Junior Kyle Hoffman said he learned the news when his mother called him to let him know.
“I’m really excited and really happy that he’s coming back,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing for him next year.”