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October 24, 2012

‘Divided’ — Hanceville coach reprimanded for behavior

A Hanceville High School coach has been reprimanded by the Cullman County school board after being accused of discriminatory behavior against some student-athletes earlier this month.

After nearly six hours in executive session Monday night the board voted to reprimand Hanceville head football coach Danny Miller with a statement in his personnel file and require him to attend professional development related to sensitivity. Miller will continue to coach the team and will remain a teacher at the school.

A message left for Miller seeking comment was not returned by deadline of this article.

“We went through our process and in our minds we addressed it and we think we took a great step in the right direction,” Superintendent Billy Coleman said. “We tried to handle this to the best of our abilities. We’re just trying to do what’s right.”

School board member Kenny Brockman, the Hanceville area representative, said the time allowed the board to dig into the accusations and give everyone involved an opportunity to speak.

“It was a board decision,” he said. “We listened to everyone and did what we thought was the right thing to do.”

A handful of families voiced complaints about Miller more than two weeks ago, which prompted an investigation by the administration. In records obtained by The Times, seven Hanceville athletes and six parents of various ethnicities provided written statements of their allegations to the board. The parents claim Miller made “racist” remarks, including telling student-athletes after a recent loss that the “problem is you don’t have a father at home,” and allegedly called another student “white trash.”

Though the executive session was done behind closed doors as required by law, a crowd of more than 40 community members attended and waited several hours to learn Miller’s fate.

A contingent of fans and players wearing “Team Miller” T-shirts were scattered throughout the crowd, as Coleman led an impromptu question and answer session with those in attendance. During a brief argument between members of the crowd over support of the team, one heated exchange asked why those wearing “Team Miller” shirts weren’t simply wearing Hanceville shirts.

The public comments were contentious at times, with one shout from the crowd stating the community’s response to Miller’s alleged actions reflected a lingering racial divide in one of Cullman County’s most diverse cities.

“It don’t look like it’s right versus wrong, but more like it’s black versus white,” one woman said, to muted cheers and jeers.

Former Hanceville High football standout Randy Malcom, father of a recent student-athlete, spoke in defense of Miller and said he hopes the community will be able to grow and learn from this experience.

“You just hate that this happened. Sometimes people might run off at the mouth, and I know Coach Miller really well,” he said. “But, you’ve got to know somebody’s heart. We’re a great community, we’re winning and we’ve got to come together. Why can’t we just talk? Coach Miller’s not prejudiced, guys. It don’t make [the allegations] right, but he’s not prejudiced.”

Marquita Green, parent of a student-athlete, said she has butted heads with Miller on several occasions — but has always found common ground with the coach.

“Personally, we have had problems in the past,” she said. “But, I went to this man, talked about it and he addressed it. It was taken care of.”

Coleman admitted the issue is a delicate one, but told everyone in attendance he believes they’re all working for the good of the students.

“I’m so proud of this football team and how you’ve all dealt with some tough stuff. There’s obviously a lot of character on this team. If you want to find something positive out of something divisive, just keep that in mind,” Coleman said to cheers from the crowd. “I know it’s a little divided ... There’s no excuse for saying anything, ever, that hurts kids.”

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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