Woodland Hills High School principal Kevin Murray is officially the school’s next head football coach.
And that has many residents in a furor.
Tensions rose and tempers flared at the Woodland Hills Area School District School Board meeting Wednesday evening, April 19, where the board narrowly voted to install Murray as the team’s new head football coach. The nearly 200 community members, many of them African American, voiced their displeasure with not only the board’s decision, but the way in which most community members did not get a chance to speak about the subject to the board prior to the vote.
The final vote count was 5-4 in favor of Murray. Board members who voted in favor of Murray were Andre Moore, Fred Kuhn, Jeff Hanchett, Mike Belmonte and Tara Reis. Those who voted against Murray were Ava Johnson, Jamie Glasser, Jeff Hildebrand, and Robert Tomasic.
“I heard a lot of comments over the weekend about the conduct of certain people, and I can’t get answers whether they’re true or not,” Tomasic told the New Pittsburgh Courier. Tomasic revealed he had inquired to the board and to others about certain rumored conduct that Murray engaged. Tomasic would not disclose the exact conduct, though it was different from the now-public audio recordings of Murray, in which Murray verbally threatened to “punch” a 14-year-old student “in the face,” and that Murray would “knock your (expletive) teeth out your throat” in late 2016.
Because Tomasic couldn’t get clear answers, he voted against appointing Murray as football coach.
“You talk about this pride in the district but you’re condoning child abuse in this district,” said Akeya Kester of Braddock Hills. “I don’t have any more pride in this district. There has to be change…speak up, we have to advocate for our children. We are their best advocates, no one will fight for them like we will.”
In January, the school board elected to reinstate Murray as principal and drop all possible charges after their investigation. The vast majority of the community members present at the April 19 board meeting opposed having an administrator verbally berate and threaten a student, then later be upped to the school’s head football coach.
“The community is here and we’re watching and we’re aware of everything that’s going on, and we know what the isuse at hand is,” said Woodland Hills sophomore Alexis Davis. “The root of the issue is the criminalization and demonization of our black children.”
Reverend Richard Wingfield, pastor of Unity Baptist in Braddock Hills, said from now on, there will be at least one member of his church at all future school board meetings. “We’re not happy at all,” he said. “We are no longer going to allow this type of stuff to happen.”
“I’m a product of public education, I embrace public education, but we need to make sure our kids have the right resources,” Rev. Wingfield said. “The school board is spending $600,000 on the Wolverina. How much of that could be used toward education? Those are the things that really concern me.”
Murray did not speak publicly during the meeting. He sat in the front row of seats, flanked by supporters and current and former football players, who vouched for Murray (he was also assistant coach of the team). Legendary football coach George Novak and newly-appointed Athletic Director Ronald Coursey joined hands in front of the board in a show of solidarity, while most of the audience members jeered.
The New Pittsburgh Courier spotted Murray leaving the board meeting shortly thereafter to take a cell phone call. He never returned to the proceedings.
“I feel like that (what Murray said to the student in November) is basically child abuse, verbal child abuse,” said Yvette Jackson. Jackson’s 19-year-old son supported Murray during the board meeting. “I don’t feel like he feels,” Yvette Jackson, of East Pittsburgh, said. “He likes coach Murray, he feels like he’s a cool guy, and that’s fine. But from what I’ve seen, I don’t like it. I don’t like how he spoke to that (14-year-old), ‘I’ma knock your teeth down your throat.’
“I work in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. I would never, I don’t care how mad a kid makes you, you never speak to them like that. I believe they (the school board) made the wrong decision tonight.”