Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Tyler Sapp, right, was relieved of coaching duties Monday afternoon at Van Buren County. Sapp was last year's District 5A coach of the year (photos courtesy of Stephanie Sullivan)
THURSDAY UPDATE: Van Buren County reinstated Tyler Sapp as coach in the early afternoon Thursday. Read about his reinstatement here: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/sapp-reinstated-as-coach
Bombshell news came from Van Buren County Monday regarding its girls basketball program. Van Buren County decided to part ways with coach Tyler Sapp just eight day before the regular season begins. Sapp was relieved of his duties just two days after leading the Eaglettes to two victories in a home playday.
Sapp, 30, has been the coach at Van Buren County High School since the 2016-17 season. Under his direction, Van Buren County compiled an 86-65 record, including a District 5A championship in 2020-21 while going 24-3. Sapp was also named District 5A coach of the year last season.
Van Buren County High School athletic director Dustin Sullivan declined comment, but did confirm he was not present in the meeting that ended Sapp’s coaching tenure at Van Buren County.
The news was stunning to the five-year leader of the program, who has pushed his team into the regionals every year and even had the Eaglettes one step from a state bid in his first season.
“I had no idea,” said Sapp about being relieved of his duties midday Monday. “As a coach, you can always have a feeling in the back of your head that you could be replaced, but you never think it a week before the season starts.”
Van Buren County began practice, like the rest of the state, last Monday, Nov. 1. Sapp was operating with his same assertiveness, knowing the program had to replace three key players from last year's impressive run. Over the weekend, Sapp coached the Eaglettes to wins over DeKalb County and Monterey in a playday held in Van Buren County.
By Monday, he was on the outside looking in. Sapp was called into a meeting with Van Buren County Director of Schools Cheryl Cole, VBCHS principal Katina Simmons and VBCHS assistant principal Drew Campbell on a day which felt routine to Sapp at the time but quickly became anything but.
“I went to the office to turn in a paper for my flu shot and Ms. Cole asked me to come back to my room because they (Cole, Simmons and Campbell) wanted to talk to me. When it first started, Ms. Cole said they wanted to talk about girls basketball,” said Sapp, who also teaches PE/Wellness and one class of Economics at Van Buren County High School.
The conversation went south quick for Sapp. He was told he would no longer be the coach at Van Buren County High School – though he says he was offered to stay on as an assistant. The reason given: The program needed a woman at the helm.
“They talked about how people had called the school board and that the girls felt uncomfortable with a male coach and the community wanted a woman in that position. It hadn’t been a problem for five years,” said Sapp, one of at least four different male coaches who have guided the VBCHS girls over the last two-plus decades. “They said there were people who were concerned about it when I took over, but I haven’t ever heard that.
“When they said they think a woman should be in that position, I told them that it was sexist and it was wrong.”
Tyler Sapp first took over at Van Buren County in 2016-17. One former player referred to him as, "the best coach I had during my playing time (in Van Buren County)."
Calls, messages and emails sent to principal Simmons by the Warren County Sports Authority Tuesday were not answered.
Sapp first arrived in Van Buren County during the 2015-16 season, when Cole was the head coach. He served one year as an assistant for the girls team – almost as a coach in waiting, “I came in from Day 1 knowing it was her last year,” said Sapp – while also coaching the Van Buren County Middle School boys team.
Sapp’s coaching experience also dates back to youth and AAU teams in Bledsoe County, where he graduated in 2009. He went on to get his degree at Tennessee Tech in Exercise Science and Wellness in hopes of becoming a teacher and coach.
Sapp has three assistants - Jill Bouldin (started in 2018-19), Lakelyn Bouldin (started in 2019-20) and Cassandra Binkley (since 2016-17). All but Lakelyn, who serves as a VBCMS girls coach, were present when Sapp got to tell his team Monday.
“I talked the team at 4 p.m. I told them that I was no longer their head coach,” said Sapp. "Our AD didn't even know. I was the one who told him."
As it stands, there is no word on who will be coaching the Eaglettes this winter. Some speculation came out Tuesday that Cole may retake the reins of the program she turned over to Sapp over five years ago.
The Warren County Sports Authority left multiple message with Cole Tuesday afternoon. Attempts at contacting her were also unsuccessful.
Sapp has no plans to move on from his teaching job at Van Buren County. He does, however, envision getting back into coaching again at some point.
“This is the whole reason I went into teaching. I want to coach,” said Sapp.
Van Buren County is scheduled to start its district title defense Tuesday, Nov. 16 with a Hall of Champions game against Soddy Daisy. Van Buren County will play in District 6A in 2021-22 that, after TSSAA realignment, features Whitwell, South Pittsburg and Richard Hardy.
UPDATE (10:10 am Wednesday)
From the Van Buren County school website:
The Van Buren County Board of Education will meet Monday, November 15, 2021 for a Special Called Meeting. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Van Buren County Board of Education located at 293 Sparta Street, Spencer, Tennessee 38585.
Agenda-Discussion of VBHS Girls Basketball Coach