LAKE WALES - A combination of surveillance cameras and cellphone video gave a clear view into an altercation involving a high school basketball coach and a player at Lake Wales High School.
The interpretation about the severity of the encounter remained the subject of intense debate between parents in the community and the Lake Wales Charter School District.
Burney Hayes, 51, was fired from his job as a citizen basketball coach and substitute teacher, after he forcibly removed a player from the practice gym. That student had been fighting with a teammate.
The video showed the students pushing each other on one side of the basketball court. One of them leaves the gym, and upon his return, he's blocked by Hayes from re-entering. The cell phone video has sound, and the two are heard yelling at one another.
"You're going to be respectful," demanded Hayes, while holding the boy with both arms. "I didn't do nothing to you!"
The student responded as Hayes moved the teen towards the gym exit. "Get off me! Get off me, man!" the student yelled.
The attorney for the school district, Robin Gibson, described the encounter as an assault, and said the incident was the last straw for Hayes.
"He has difficulty controlling his temper," Gibson said. "He's been required to go to anger management courses."
Gibson also cited Hayes as having problems on other jobs as well.
"He's had issues with his prior employment with the sheriff's office. He's had issues with his prior employment with the city police department," Gibson said.
More alarming, Gibson said, was the fact that the principal of Lake Wales High School, Donna Dunson, had to contact police after receiving death threats.
"It's cowardly, and it's potentially dangerous," Gibson said. No arrests have been made in the case.
At the basketball game between Lake Wales at Auburndale High School Tuesday evening, supporters of Burney Hayes wore t-shirts that read "No Hayes no play," and many waved signs on his behalf.
Tamiko Hodge helped organized the protest, and said that Hayes had every right to protect himself and other students.
"We have had multiple situations where there have been incidents on school grounds where kids have brought guns," Hodge said, clearly referring to the recent incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
"Taking him out of the gym was the right thing to do."
Hayes supporters plan to appear at the team's next basketball game on Thursday, and are planning to protest at the next school board meeting.
Mark Cooley also attended Tuesday's basketball game, and said kids back talking to adults like what he saw on the video deserve some kind of reprimand.
"A child has to be taught respect," Cooley said. "Burney Hayes is an authority figure in Lake Wales, period."
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