“He is no longer coach for this year, and he will not be coach next year,” Kingsport City Schools spokeswoman Amy Greear said Friday of a decision made this week by Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller. “Beyond that, it would be on a contract-by-contract basis.”
Assistant Coach Andy Hubbard will remain as interim coach through the end of this season, Greear said, adding that she did not know who would be coach for next season.
Higgins was suspended from his coaching duties April 6 following an incident with a player in front of D-B, Daniel Boone High School players, and players and fans of other teams during the Eastman Invitational Tournament April 4 in Kingsport.
School officials, including D-B Principal Earl Lovelace, have not said what exactly was alleged to have occurred, although it became well-known in the community from eyewitness accounts that Higgins allegedly hit a player in the back of the head while the player was wearing a helmet.
Three of Higgins’ former players in recent interviews said that getting hit on the back of the helmet was nothing out of the ordinary — nor, they said, should it have been — when they played softball with Higgins as coach.
The three are Sierra Waters, a 2006 D-B graduate who plays softball for Emory & Henry College; JoHila Roach, a 2004 D-B graduate; and Mandy Hartsock, a 2004 D-B graduate who went on to get a college degree in math and computer science.
They spoke to a Kingsport Times-News reporter at their request and agreed to have their names used in an article.
Waters and Roach played softball for Higgins for four years, Hartsock for three. Roach and Hartsock had Higgins as a math teacher, too.
The three said they had been hit by Higgins on the back of the helmet “hundreds” of times in their D-B softball careers, during both wins and losses.
During the April 4 incident, the player had just made a mistake that cost D-B the game and the ability to move forward in the tournament.
“I think it was blown out of proportion,” Waters said of the tournament incident. “Every time I’ve ever played for Coach Higgins, he’s always slapped me on the back of the helmet.”
Roach said, “It’s not anything out of the ordinary.”
“That’s the way he praises you,” Hartsock said, adding that Higgins “made us play as a team.”
Roach said Higgins helped her get through her dad’s death while she was in high school. Roach said Higgins and his wife came to her wedding last year, and Waters said her time in D-B softball made her mentally and physically tough for “college ball.”
“Getting slapped in the back of the head comes with the territory,” Waters said.
She said such contact is common with coaches in other high school sports.