BLANKET — Head football coach and athletic director Brent Williamson's future status with the Blanket ISD remains in the air after a specially-called school board to discuss his future failed to take place.
While more than 200 parents and students were in attendance at the Blanket ISD cafeteria Monday night, a quorum of school board members failed to show. Therefore, an official meeting couldn't take place, and the next scheduled meeting of the Blanket school board isn't until March 19.
“I was surprised that they didn't show up, but I really can't speak for them, I'm more concerned with the community,” said Chris Furry, one of three Blanket school board members in attendance along with Beth Bower and James Heard. “It's going to have to come before the board at some point in time at a future meeting. We were trying to get it resolved sooner than later just because of the controversy in the community with it.”
With the meeting called off, Blanket ISD Superintendent David Whisenhunt opted to hold a town hall forum instead and invited those who intended to share their thoughts during the board meeting to speak if they so chose. Those who spoke all voiced their support of Williamson.
Earlier this month, the Blanket school board opted not to renew Williamson's contract, which led to a backlash from students and parents alike. Williamson, who is in his first year with the district, is on a probationary contract and state school law requires that the board have a separate vote to terminate Williamson's probationary contract. That vote did not occur, according to a press release issued by Whisenhunt over the weekend, so Williamson's contract was not terminated.
The situation was expected to be resolved by a vote Monday night, but school board members Steve Schulze, Vicky Jenkins, Sherry Gill, and Mary Wilson were not in attendance — which drew the ire of Williamson's attorney Tiger Hanner, who spoke during the town hall.
“For all of these years some of your school board members have been running this district like it was their own little business,” Hanner said. “Because they didn't have the guts tonight to show up, we'll file a grievance (Tuesday). And the good thing about a grievance is they can't hide. They have to listen and they have to vote, they have no choice. They can keep hiding all they want, but we're not going away. We'll be here and these people have to look you in the eye and answer for what they've done. There's a thing called an in-governance violation, which means when school board members try and run the day-to-day operations of the school district, that's illegal. That's the superintendent's job and the principal's job, not their job. They also have something called the open meetings act, but unfortunately school board members like to get together on the phone or in private and figure out what they're going to do. That's a violation of the law and TEA is going to be real interested in that. Certain board members have said hateful, horrible, slanderous things around town about this man and his family. There's no protection for that and I will sue them and the school district is not going to pay to defend them, the money's coming out of their pocket.
“There was a real easy chance to fix this and make this stop by doing the right thing, showing up tonight to vote. They chose not to do that. You need to let your school board know this is your school. (Williamson) is the man they want, this is the kind of people you want for your kids. Your children have a voice, they're sharing it and they're righting for the man they love, and I hope you fight with them.”
The reason for Williamson's non-renewal has remained a mystery all month, however
Hanner stated the official word was “for the best interest of Blanket ISD as we move into the 2018-19 school year.”
Prior to Hanner, several students spoke on behalf of Williamson, including a player from Gorman where Williamson coached prior to arriving in Blanket.
Logan Wheeler, a Tiger football player, said, “He's a father, a husband, a rock and a father figure, especially to me, and a follower a God. What is it about this man that's so special? It's his heart and that's what separates him from every single person in this room. It's pure and it's genuine and I've seen it in action countless times, especially on me. I can't tell you how many times he's gone out of his way to get me something to eat or drink, and he's doing it out of the goodness of his heart, but he doesn't know that's my dinner that night. That's all that I've got that night, he doesn't know that. He makes me feel like I have a purpose here, like I actually belong.”
Mark Lopez, a Tiger golfer said, “Me and Coach Williamson had struggles in the past during football season. I quit on him because the running was too much. He gave me a chance to come back and play football, and I made a stupid choice and said no. To play golf I had to do a little bit of running, but I didn't get mad and finished the running. He's taught me to overcome my fears and do that right thing. He didn't have to be our coach this year … but he decided to come to Blanket.”
Cassie Furry, a member of the Lady Tigers 2017 state championship golf team, said, “We shouldn't have to be doing this, especially for a man that has stood beside us no matter what. For me personally, there are days I physically cannot do athletics, and while he could be sitting in his office minding his own business, he comes in there and sits by and checks on me and makes sure I'm OK before he pushes me to do anything else. Coach and his family took me in as one of their own from day one, they've treated me so great and I'm so thankful for that. They're truly people of faith … all-around great people and I would be very sad to see Blanket let someone like them go.”
Williamson's daughter, Tori, and step-daughter, Lexcey Welty, also shared their thoughts.
Tori spoke of living in seven homes and five towns growing up and battling depression as the Williamsons left High Island for Gorman. Then, when the Williamsons moved to Blanket, she was fearful of not being accepted, but cited the warmth and compassion of her basketball teammates as an eye-opening experience.
“At first I was reluctant and afraid, but that all changed the day I met my basketball team,” Tori said. “They opened their arms, welcomed me in and made me feel like one of their own. Instead of talking down on my mistakes they uplifted me, they encouraged me. If it weren't for this team and this community … I wouldn't be the athlete that I am or the person that I am.
“The day my dad came in and informed us his contract didn't get renewed for the 2018-19 school year was probably the worse day for the Williamson family ever. We were absolutely heartbroken. But to see this community and surrounding communities rally around my dad, that shows you the kind of impact he's made on not just the town he's at now but the towns he's been to. He loves where he's at, we all do. Blanket ISD is our home. We've traveled to almost every corner of Texas and we found somewhere that feels like home, somewhere that we want to be. I want to graduate as a Blanket Tiger with my team, with my class and with this community.”
The gathering ended with Williamson addressing those in attendance.
“I don't know how to go about saying thank you for the support,” Williamson said, “but it's not about me, it's about these kids. I'm not in it for the gold trophies and all the medals, I'm in it for the kids. Trophies and medals are just perks along the way. When they walk across that stage and they're successful in life, then I'm successful. That's what I care about. I care about when they hurt, I care about when something's going wrong, but I'm also there to support them when things are going right. This is a calling, this is not a job for me. It's a talent God gave me to be able to take care of these kids and see them be successful. It's not what I do, it's what God does through me. And I don't want to be anywhere else but right here in Blanket.”