Eight students in Eastern Kentucky have quit playing for their high school basketball team due to their Board of Education’s handling of alleged grievances against their head coach.
Floyd Central students Dalton Boyd, 16, Brady Conn, 18, Hayden Hall, 16, Brady Jones, 16, Payton Tackett, 17, Sebastian Tackett, 18, Bryce Thacker, 14, and Markus Thacker, 16, each quit the boys’ basketball team Tuesday following an investigation of head coach Kevin Spurlock, whom they and their parents allege threatened a fan of an opposing team and has repeatedly verbally abused them.
The Floyd County Board of Education on Wednesday announced disciplinary action against Spurlock for “conduct unbecoming of a coach” following an investigation into allegations brought to it by the eight students and their parents.
Spurlock confirmed to the Herald-Leader that he was suspended for three games but would also sit out a fourth game voluntarily because it was recently added to the Jaguars’ schedule. He served the first game of that suspension Wednesday night.
The eight players who left the team — all members of the varsity team except Bryce Thacker, a freshman — felt that their concerns were not taken seriously by the school board. Players and parents addressed the school board as a group Monday afternoon and were informed individually of Spurlock’s suspension Tuesday, Floyd County Superintendent Danny Adkins told the Herald-Leader. Each student was given the choice to remain on the team but chose to quit as long as Spurlock remained at the helm.
Parents and players voiced their concerns on Twitter this week as news of Spurlock’s suspension became public.
Spurlock is alleged to have gotten into a verbal altercation with an opposing fan during a scrimmage at Paul G. Blazer High School in Ashland on Nov. 24. That was the final straw for players who say they’ve repeatedly witnessed and been subject to demeaning conduct by Spurlock during his tenure with the fledgling program (Floyd Central opened in the fall of 2017 following the consolidation of Allen Central and South Floyd).
Spurlock didn’t want to address specific allegations with the Herald-Leader but said that “a lot of the things they are alleging are false.”
“If some things they said had been proven, I would have been fired,” Spurlock said. “They’ve fabricated and a lot of boys retracted a lot of things they had said from where they were originally versus the time of their interview. … A lot of things they said were not factual or unsubstantiated or agreed upon by anybody. I think a three-game suspension is fair.”
The players spent last week gathering their issues and communicating them to their parents before taking them to the board as a group on Monday.
The alleged incident in Ashland stemmed from Spurlock’s disgruntlement with the officials.
“He asked the Ashland coach ‘if they had any better god damn referees’ and that these referees were horrible,” Angie Hurd, Conn’s mother, said. “We’ve heard it for two years, it’s horrible. It’s not something a coach should be saying.”
Hurd alleged that an unknown Ashland fan told Spurlock to ‘Sit down’ soon after.
“And Kevin said, ‘Come down here and make me sit down,’” Hurd said. “The fan hollered ‘Shut up,’ and then Kevin said, ‘Come down here and make me shut up.’ They went back and forth for a couple minutes and for some reason the Ashand fan stopped his tirade or whatever else he was gonna say. Kevin got up from his seat, turned around and faced him and said, ‘I thought you were coming down here? You’re a big man way up there. Are you coming down here? I didn’t think so.’”
Hurd said players were “mortified” after the alleged exchange, which multiple Floyd Central parents described in the same detail in separate interviews with the Herald-Leader. Ashland Superintendent Mark Swift said he was present during the scrimmage.
“I don’t recall ever feeling like there was ever going to be anything imminent,” Swift said. “I cannot confirm nor deny that there was an altercation at all.”
Sebastian Tackett, one of three seniors who quit the team, said during another preseason scrimmage that Spurlock huddled the team and addressed them as ‘chicken sh-t pussies’ after they failed to retrieve a loose ball. Missy Jones, the mother of Brady Jones, recalled another game this season in which a player was struck in the eye with an elbow during a scrum and Spurlock used the phrase ‘chicken sh-t pussies’ loud enough for fans in the stands to hear while critiquing his players’ effort. Brady told her that he continued to belabor the incident in the locker room when the game ended.
“He said in the locker room afterward that ‘You’re letting your teammate get raped and molested out there and you’re not even doing anything about it,’” Missy Jones said. “He’s egging these kids on to fight on the court.’
Multiple players and parents said Spurlock’s demeanor during their summer exhibitions was similar. During one summer game, Missy Jones said, Spurlock was upset with a missed call by a female official — “She didn’t see something that did happen,” Missy said — with Floyd Central trailing by four points with four minutes left. He continued to berate the official for two minutes following the missed call before choosing to forfeit the contest.
“He talked to her like a dog,” Missy Jones said. “He got so mad he forfeited the game and took the kids out of the possibility of winning a championship game. We drove all the way to Lexington, spent all this money, for him to decide on a whim to up and leave.”
Injured players say they have been mocked by Spurlock. Hayden Hall and Brady Jones have both played with knee pain this season: Hayden is suffering from tendinitis and Brady has a partially-torn meniscus. Both boys played in a junior varsity game at Perry County Central on Nov. 29 but were not available for the varsity contest; Hall’s tendinitis flared up and Jones’ knee gave out and he had to be helped off the court after coming down awkwardly when he grabbed a rebound.
“At halftime of the varsity game while my child was still sitting because he couldn’t dress,” Jo Hall, Hayden’s mother, said. “(Spurlock) threw himself on the floor, grabbed his knee and said, ‘Oh I’m Hayden, I’ve hurt my knee,’ making fun of my child. He’s supposed to be an adult? He’s supposed to be an educator and setting examples for these children? No.”
“After the varsity game was over, in the locker room, he turns around and looks directly at Brady and said, ‘It’s awful funny that y’all are such pussies that when we play a good team you grab your knees,” Missy Jones said. “My son played football for Floyd Central also. He made the All-District team. This child played with his ankles taped in his cleats, his cleats taped to his ankles and a cast on his left arm. He’s not afraid to play.”
Most parents and players with whom the Herald-Leader spoke weren’t concerned with Spurlock’s use of profane language as they were his alleged attacks on student self-esteem.
“He never compliments us and he’s always cussing at us and telling us we’re horrible,” Sebastian Tackett said. ”This year, he’s telling us we’re the worst team in the region and the worst he’s ever seen play, and cussing at us the whole time. I don’t care about hard coaching and I’ve been cussed at before by other coaches. It ain’t really that. It’s just the way he demeans us and belittles us, it’s not the way any of us feel like we should be coached on the high school level.”
Tackett and the other seven players want to continue playing organized basketball but say they will not return to the team if Spurlock remains as its head coach.
“I really don’t want to lose my whole senior year just because somebody tries to bully their players into trying to play better,” Tackett said.
During Floyd Central’s game at Fleming County on Saturday – ultimately a 53-41 decision against the Jaguars – he said that Spurlock threatened to replace the varsity team with eighth-graders and that the coach said “he’s never seen a worse team.”
Jamie Salisbury, Bryce and Markus’ mother, works for Floyd Central but is on medical leave due to anxiety induced by the situation involving her sons.
“I will back them 100 percent no matter the cost to me,” Jamie Salisbury said.
Conn, a 1,000-point scorer for his career and a contender for 15th Region Player of the Year, was the subject of ridicule from Spurlock regarding his weight, Hurd, his mother, alleged.
“Brady’s by no means overweight but Kevin has told him if he wants to be a college player he has to slim down,” Hurd said. “That’s perfectly fine. But to constantly belittle him about it?”
Conn was specifically asked by school officials this week if Spurlock ever called him a “fat ass.”
“My child is honest,” Hurd said. ‘He said, I don’t remember the word ‘fat ass’ but he has constantly referred to my weight as an obstacle.’ Kevin told Brady he never called him fat and I just saw the color go out of (Conn’s) face. … Brady started crying and said, ‘Mom, I’m done. I’m sitting here with four adults representing the school system and my word’s not good enough along with all the other boys that have come forward with insults and stuff like that.’”
Dalton Boyd was targeted because of his weight as well, his mother Rhonda Boyd said. Dalton suffered an ACL tear midseason last year and was not able to play with the team during the summer.
“Everybody’s guilty of saying inappropriate words in front of children occasionally. They are. And these are older boys,” Rhonda Boyd said. “But the self-esteem part of it? You never know what a child is going through. You never know, they may act confident but in their mind they may think they’re fat or they know that they need to lose weight.”
The parents and players maintain that their issues have nothing to do with Spurlock’s coaching philosophy.
“It’s not about coaching style, it’s about how you address the kids you’re supposed to be a mentor to,” Hurd said. “You’re supposed to be a role model. The Floyd County motto is ‘It’s all about kids,’ and it’s just not.”
Spurlock said there are conduct policies in place for coaches in Floyd County and that he didn’t follow them as well as he should have. He will continue teaching in the school system; Adkins said there has never been a concern raised over Spurlock’s conduct as it pertains to the classroom.
“There’s been no Bobby Knight (actions) or any of those things,” Spurlock said. “Nobody getting their nose bit off or nobody getting headbutted or choked. It’s not even remotely close to that. The superintendent said he felt comfortable with three (games) if I felt comfortable with three, and I felt totally comfortable with it. I think based on our policies, it was perfectly fine with me. We’re gonna move on and get past it. We’ll see how that works. It won’t be easy but in the long run it’ll be okay. I’m not real worried about it. It’s just another obstacle you gotta get over.”
Spurlock has coached at six schools — also including Clay County, Hazard, Perry County Central, Sheldon Clark and Trimble County — in 14 seasons as a head coach. He led Hazard to the 2004 All “A” Classic state title and to the 2006 Sweet Sixteen.
Floyd Central is 1-3 entering Friday’s game in the WYMT Mountain Classic.