Updated: Nov 12, 2021
NEW UPDATE (Friday, 12:45 p.m.): Added comments from Director of Schools Cheryl Cole
What a difference three days make.
Van Buren County has completely reversed course on its huge news Monday, reinstating Tyler Sapp as its coach this afternoon. Sapp was originally relieved of his duties as Eaglette coach, but after immense community pressure and the story making national headlines, last year’s District 5A coach of the year is back on the sidelines.
“It feels great,” said Sapp about returning to the practice floor. “It felt normal again. We talked as a team about having a clean state and moving forward as if nothing happened – it didn’t as far as they are concerned.
“We’re looking to come together as a team and put this behind us.”
The WC Sports Authority broke the news Tuesday that Sapp was removed as girls coach at Van Buren County, a position he has held since 2016-17. Sapp, 30, was just two days removed from leading the Eaglettes to two victories in a home playday.
When Sapp was let go, Van Buren County was just eight days from its opening game of the season. In his three-day absence, the WCSA has learned Van Buren County Director of Schools Cheryl Cole, who led the meeting that relieved Sapp of his duties Monday, ran practices. Cole, who confirmed she did lead practices this week, was the coach of the Eaglettes before Sapp, who served as her assistant for one year before taking the reins of the program.
Cole says the decision to reinstate Sapp came after administration "did further research and I reversed my decision."
Now, the Eaglettes their old leader back running practice in preparation for next week’s Hall of Fame matchup at Soddy Daisy. Van Buren County is scheduled to play its first home game next Saturday, Nov. 20. The staff could grew even more by the weekend.
Sapp has reached out to Cassandra Binkley about returning to the program. Binkley, who has been on Sapp’s staff since he took over, resigned Monday following his dismissal.
Sapp was coming off a 24-3 season in 2020-21 where he was also named the District 5A coach of the year. Van Buren County will compete in District 6A - featuring Whitwell, South Pittsburg and Richard Hardy - this year after TSSAA realignment. Sapp has compiled an 86-65 record as Van Buren County coach, including taking the team to the regional five times, advancing to substate in his first year and winning a District 5A title last year.
Sapp’s story drew national attention due to the fact Sapp alleged that Van Buren County administration members told the coach they were making the move because they wanted a woman to lead the girls program. Sapp declined to comment on specific reasoning given for administration’s reversal.
Van Buren County High School athletic director Dustin Sullivan also declined comment on the situation but did confirm he was present Thursday. Sapp was the one to inform Sullivan of his release on Monday - the athletic director was unaware of his removal or a meeting earlier in the week.
Also present in today’s meeting – just as they were on Monday’s dismissal – were Cole, VBCHS principal Katina Simmons and VBCHS vice principal Drew Campbell.
Cole said she "could not comment," on the reasons given for Sapp's dismissal. Her comments Friday were the first time any Van Buren County administration members have commented on the situation.
Rumors of Sapp’s reinstatement began surfacing Thursday afternoon. The WC Sports Authority was able to confirm with school officials and Sapp that he indeed was reintroduced to the team and operating practice once again.
For Sapp, it was an uneasy few hours before his reinstatement, but he took a leap of faith when he was contacted about a second meeting this week.
“I was contacted by our principal and asked if I could come in for meeting today. I wasn’t sure about it – I was uneasy about the whole thing, but I ended up going,” said Sapp.
He was back on the court just a few hours later with his team.
After the original story broke late Tuesday night, the news spread quickly. Reporting was picked up nationally by Outkick.com and Yahoo.com, with Sapp gaining a huge swath of support. The original story posted on the WC Sports Authority Facebook page had over 200 shares within 48 hours. Some concerned Van Buren County fans even began circulating an online petition to oust leadership at the school due to what seemed to be an unpopular, and unprecedented, change.
Sapp says he was showered calls and messages of support in the last 72 hours.
“You see things on social media, but I’ve only had nothing but positive things coming my way. It’s great to have the community support, the support of former players and so many others. People I didn’t even know were contacting me and saying, ‘Everything would be OK.’ Coaches from the state and coaches from out of state,” said Sapp. “You don’t want something like this to happen to hear all the positives, but they were appreciated."
The Van Buren County School Board released information Wednesday that a special called meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 15 to discuss Sapp’s removal as coach. The WC Sports Authority confirmed with the Board of Education office, as of late Thursday, that the meeting will continue as planned.
As of Friday, it has been called off. Cole relayed the information that the meeting would no longer be held after Sapp's reinstatement late Thursday.
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