When the coach of a nationally ranked, defending state champion Virginia Beach high school football team was suspended earlier this year, fans of his rallied to his defense online.
Chris Scott, the head coach at Ocean Lakes, was already serving a three-game suspension for violating a rule against recruiting when concerns arose by September that he could face a stiffer punishment. A Facebook group named “Support Ocean Lakes Coach Chris Scott” was created Aug. 28th, urging people to contact the Virginia Beach School Board.
Dozens of people responded to the call. A public records request by Southside Daily that spanned about three months turned up 43 emails to the School Board about Scott, almost all of them expressing support and admiration for the coach and teacher. The emails flowed in from players, students and parents who talked about Scott’s positive influence in the Ocean Lakes community.
School Board Chairman Dan Edwards said in an interview this week that board members receive emails on a wide range variety of topics, from test scores to issues in schools and classrooms. However, some of those areas don’t seem to generate as much community interest as things like football, he said.
“A successful football coach will obviously generate support,” he said. “Part of what we got was certainly based on that, but there was a strong element of support that went beyond football.”
As board members read over the emails they noticed that many cited achievements of Scott’s off the football field, including his role in the community and in his players’ lives, Edwards said.
Scott did not respond to an email request for an interview for this article.
He was initially suspended on June 28 from coaching his team through the first three games of the season for violating Virginia High School League Rule 27-9-1, which addresses undue influence or effort to recruit a student to enroll in a school outside of their residential area, according to the school district.
The punishment was handed down by Ocean Lakes Principal Cheryl Askew, not the School Board. On Sept. 8, Askew extended the suspension another two games, after an investigation by the school found that Scott had violated the terms of his initial suspension on multiple occasions, according to Lauren Nolasco, a spokeswoman for the school district.
The school district has not released details of the violations, callling it a personnel matter.
Of the emails released in response to Southside Daily’s records request, two of them called for harsher punishment of the coach. Those were sent the day after Askew extended Scott’s suspension.
One of those emailers wrote:
“Where is the integrity of the Ocean Lakes administration, coaches, parents, and players. Where is the outrage from the community? Why would you want someone who flagrantly and arrogantly dismisses the rules again and again to mentor your student-athlete? … This is a black mark on the Beach District for not holding their administrators to a higher standard and a slap in the face to all the other teams who follow the rules and try to teach our student-athletes so many life’s lessons through sports.”
That was an anomaly among the emails the School Board saw about Scott, however. Here are excerpts from those that supported the coach:
From current or former Dolphins players:
“I am 17 and have been a typical teenager. All About me..self centered. Until I became part of this team. Coach Scott teaches us about FAMILY (Forget about ME, I LOVE YOU!)…You have no idea what it will do to us if you continue to try and take our teacher, coach and life mentor. Coach is a father figure for so many guys on our team…We ALL need him, he changes our lives.”
“I was taught a lot, including that it’s student before athlete, not just X’s and O’s. I was taught to be selfless and how family mattered to the school.”
“He believed in me when no one else would and pushed me to continue a career in athletics while persistently making sure I only looked into schools that would challenge me academically. He helped me fill out paperwork with financials aid packages, grants, scholarships and any other mandatory documents required for me to continue a football career in college. He offered to drive me on recruiting trips when my parents couldn’t because they were working!…You remove Chris Scott, and you remove a man who is making the Ocean Lakes Community stronger, healthier, and more successful.”
From parents of current or former Dolphins players:
“Chris Scott and the coaching staff BELIEVED in my son, they pushed him to prove himself.”
“Coach Scott has a program called breakfast club where him and coaches tutor the young men in the morning before school. He would pick up my son in the morning to take him to school for this program…As a parent, I have every right to move to another school district for the better of my child!!”
“Since our son had encounter Chris Scott he’s opened up more, he’s responsible, his study habits has improved. These kids need Chris Scott.”
Current or former Ocean Lakes students:
“I have never seen a coach work more closely with his players on work ethic, academics and character in every category. I have witnessed the most TREMENDOUS transformations in so many of his boys as a result of his unwavering hunger for his athlete’s success on the field and in life…He is without a doubt the most looked up to figure at our school by my peers and myself. The student body relies on his “I am somebody” speech because it serves as our constant reminder to push ourselves to be the best we can be.”
Parents of current or former Ocean Lakes students:
“For a district where good teachers are hard to come by, why make a mistake and let this man go. These students have a positive role model, and in this day and age need one more than ever…Keep Coach Scott at Ocean Lakes and let him keep inspiring those young lives, because he believes in those sytudents as much as they and the community believe in him.”
“I trust my kids in his hands and I truly can’t understand why the School Board is willing to threaten the goodwill that this man has created for all of us in Virginia Beach. This decision is bigger than football.”
The school district’s response to Southside Daily’s records request said three emails were withheld because they are part of an employee’s record and could not be released, according to state law and school board policy.
Another email to the board came from Beach Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence. In it, he shared a copy of the call to action on Facebook that was urging people to email positive stories about Scott to the School Board. It was sent Sept. 2, before Askew issued her second punishment of Scott.
“Based on the Facebook post below, I imagine you will get a fair number of these emails. Please know I stand by the suspension and the school continues to investigate recent activities that have been brought to our attention. No decision has been made as yet beyond the initial decision. That said, as yet, I’ve seen nothing in these emails indicating that our community knows much about what’s actually going on in this investigation nor have I seen any helpful facts that might add to it. I do appreciate their support of Coach Scott and the position this creates in the OLHS community and for you as a board.”
The Ocean Lakes football team weathered the suspension of its coach unscathed. The program, now 8-0, has been reunited with Scott and is ranked 8th in the nation by USA Today.
Southside Daily reporter Kelly Kultys contributed to this article.