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David Crockett football players, parents protest coach Sensabaugh's administrative leave

Zach Vance and Douglas Fritz • Updated Oct 10, 2017 at 8:41 PM

Turmoil and tension continued to boil between David Crockett head football coach Gerald Sensabaugh and Washington County Department of Education administrators on Tuesday, after weeks of controversy surrounding the former NFL player’s outspokenness on social media.

As news spread about administrators placing Sensabaugh on administrative leave indefinitely — effectively prohibiting his participation in practices and games — the majority of the Crockett football team skipped a scheduled practice and joined the first-year head coach, parents and other students in occupying the Washington County central office’s parking lot.

Many of the players, including junior Mark Seidler and senior Manny Gammon, said they refused to play if Sensabaugh wasn’t their coach.

“It just hurts they’re doing that to a guy who is just trying to help out. He’s a great coach,” Gammon said. “I think they may continue with the game, but I’m not going to be on the sideline if he’s not going to be on the sideline. I’m not playing if he’s not there.”

Seidler added, “We’re just taking a stand with our coach after all he’s done for us. It’s the least we could do because this goes beyond football. We’re just trying to bring change to the community and we want our voices to be heard.”

To further compound matters, Sensabaugh violated a directive from Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton to not have contact with any students.

“He was told not to have any further contact with the students, so this is a huge concern for me,” said Halliburton.

“What concerns me is he is using our children for his cause. He’s encouraging them not to go to (football) practice. He said the students are first and that he cares very deeply for the students, and he might. But it sure seems like he is enjoying the spotlight.”

Roughly a dozen other players did attend Tuesday’s practice with interim head coach Brandon Qualls at the helm. On Monday, players were told by administrators they couldn’t practice due to a safety issue involving an injured player and Sensabaugh.

Crockett Athletic Director Josh Kite was also placed on administrative leave because of allegations Sensabaugh levied against him involving painkillers.

Tuesday’s demonstration began around 10 a.m. when dozens of parents and players stormed into the Grant A. Rowland Jr. Building to express their support for Sensabaugh and discuss the matter with Halliburton.

Sensabaugh supporter Melissa Loyd, whose son is a Crockett football player, said she got to meet with Halliburton one-on-one, but did not receive a definite answer about Sensabaugh’s future. 

“She took us back one at a time. She didn’t get to speak to all the parents. A lot of the parents were upset about that, too, but apparently she had a meeting at 11:30 a.m. that she had to be at,” said Loyd, who estimated Halliburton spoke to about eight students and parents.

“I said, ‘These kids deserve an answer. They want to know today what’s going on.’ The only thing she kept saying was, ‘Thank you for coming in.’”

Halliburton and Crockett Principal Peggy Wright chose to place Sensabaugh on administrative leave while they investigated allegations that he practiced an injured player, intimidated and bullied school employees and used profanity toward players.

“This is what we’ve been told by parents students, and (assistant) coaches. Not all parents and not all students, but if you hear one and then (it grows to) 10, it’s likely true,” Halliburton said about Sensabaugh’s alleged use of profanity.

Halliburton said Sensabaugh was told to keep the profanity in check during a September meeting. Sensabaugh said accusations against him didn’t come until after his social media posts on Oct. 6, but Halliburton disputed his comments.

“His social media posts didn’t begin until after the first meeting to warn him and to give him a directive to stop with the profanity,” said Halliburton. “After that is when the social media posting began.”

Sensabaugh first blasted Washington County Schools in a Sept. 22 Facebook post about what he perceived as a poor learning environment at Jonesborough Elementary.

What followed was a multitude of other social media posts chiding the school system on a variety of different subjects. He even tagged President Donald Trump, ABC News, Fox News and ESPN in some of them.

Halliburton said Sensabaugh could have handled the entire issue much differently.

“This should have been a very private personnel matter,” she said. “He could have fixed it and handled it professionally. All of the areas were extremely fixable and correctable.”

A petition on Change.org asking to keep Sensabaugh at Crockett had more than 4,000 signatures by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Sensabaugh and the players supporting him are expected to protest at central office again on Wednesday.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP

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