However, Jerry Higgins had to wait only a few months for his second chance. The former Dobyns-Bennett coach was announced Tuesday as Science Hill’s new head softball coach.
“I feel very fortunate to continue doing something I really love,” Higgins said. “I feel really fortunate that (Science Hill) gave me an opportunity to continue.”
Higgins was removed as D-B’s head coach after the Eastman Invitational in April. During a game against Daniel Boone in the annual tournament, Higgins reportedly struck one of his own players in the helmet after what appeared to be a baserunning mistake.
D-B’s athletic department received several phone call complaints about the incident, and eventually removed Higgins from his coaching position. He was not allowed to coach for the remainder of the season.
Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner said the Hilltoppers were thorough in their investigation of the April incident before hiring Higgins to lead their program.
“We definitely covered our bases,” Turner said. “In checking things out, we obviously felt if he had it to do over again it would not have happened. The key thing is he had never done anything like that before. We talked to a lot of people in the area who had great things to say about him.
“It wasn’t brushed under the table at all. We did our homework. From people in the (D-B) administration, they didn’t feel it was malicious. There was no harm intended. I’m sure to the girl and her family it was a serious deal, and I don’t want to undermine that at all.
“But everybody I talked to felt it was just an unfortunate situation and that he deserved to coach again.”
Higgins said it was an isolated incident.
“In no way is what happened in the spring a reflection of me as a person or a coach,” said Higgins, D-B’s head softball coach for 10 years. “How it looked was probably worse than it was, just because of the situation.
“I’m thankful for Coach Turner and Science Hill doing their homework and giving me this opportunity.”
Turner said there were four internal candidates for the job, but Higgins was the front-runner.
“We felt like he was the best person for the job,” Turner said. “He has a great track record and he loves the game. The deciding factor was his proven track record.”
Higgins takes over a Science Hill program on solid ground. Heather Peterson resigned at the end of the season, but the Hilltoppers have been very competitive for quite a few years.
“We feel we’ve got a lot of talent here,” Turner said. “Science Hill softball was just hit and miss for a long time, until the last several years. We’ve either won the league or been right there in it. We feel we’ve got the talent to still be able to do that.”
Higgins was hired as a math teacher prior to interviewing for the softball job. He said his decision to leave the Kingsport school system was personal.
“I made a personal decision to look elsewhere as far as my teaching career goes,” Higgins said. “That had a lot to do with the situation in the spring. But it was my personal choice, and I was still teaching in good standing with Kingsport. It just so happened that the Science Hill coaching position was open at the time.”
Higgins said he had no problems moving to a rival school.
“First of all, I’m from Church Hill, and I graduated from Volunteer,” Higgins said. “I taught at Volunteer for seven years, but I didn’t coach softball. Going to D-B, I just made it my own.
“You have to focus where you are and what you are trying to accomplish. I will do that same thing now. I will be full-fledged Science Hill.”