McClain head coach Joe B. Stewart. (HCP photos by Stephen Forsha.)
McClain head coach Joe B. Stewart. (HCP photos by Stephen Forsha.)
By STEPHEN FORSHA and CAITLIN FORSHA
The Highland County Press


SOUTH SALEM – The Greenfield Exempted Village Board of Education has tabled a decision on who will be the boys varsity high school basketball coach following a three-hour executive session on Monday, April 26 as their April meeting was held at Buckskin Elementary School.

Monday night’s original agenda included a recommendation to hire Ryan Olaker as boys varsity basketball coach.

Though the board wouldn’t allow Joe B. Stewart – the varsity head coach for the past three seasons at McClain High School – to speak in a public forum, they did hear him in part of an executive session, which lasted for three-plus hours. The executive session started at 7:12 p.m. and ended at 10:20 p.m.

Before the session took place, Stewart, a member of the Ohio High School District 14 Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, asked to speak in a public forum, but that request was denied by Superintendent Quincey Gray earlier in the day via email.

Shortly after the meeting began, when board president Charley Roman called for public participation, Gray said, “We do not have any public participation at this time.”

“Excuse me?” Stewart asked.

“On behalf of the board, I sent an email this evening – this afternoon – to you about that,” Gray said. “We can talk further about it in the executive session.”

Stewart said “that was not my understanding” and that he did not receive the email.

“Is this South Salem or Siberia?” he asked. “I prepared to go three minutes. That was the understanding.”

Stewart added that he thought the agreement was that he would be permitted to speak in open session and “also executive session.”

“I said we will talk to you in executive session,” Roman said.

“‘Also,’” Stewart said.

Roman gaveled and said, “That’s enough,” before moving on to the remainder of the agenda.

Stewart provided a copy of his would-be public comments to The Highland County Press:

“Thank you for this opportunity.

“It was in this gym 59 years ago that I fell in love with basketball. In 1974, my high school coach became my role model. That coach and my McClain education became the catalyst for fulfilling my dream to be a coach and hopefully make a difference in young people’s lives.

“Three years ago, my wife and I were warmly greeted by the Board of Education as I assumed leadership of Tiger Basketball. Our plan was to emphasize core values, install a cutting-edge system of play and provide an education by a caring coach on and off the floor. Time and time again, we emphasize ‘Be your brother’s keeper,’ and we see that exhibited behind me tonight. The results have been extremely rewarding, and frankly, quite obvious. By every measure of success and significance, we believe we have delivered something special to our school and community.

“Last Tuesday afternoon, I received my board-mandated coaching evaluation from our athletic director. In my 31 years as a head coach, I have received no less than 14 professional evaluations, and like each of the 13 others, I was pleased to receive very high marks in the position with which I have been entrusted.

“Surprisingly, at the conclusion of that meeting, I was given a message … ‘The District would be going in a different direction’ … and that I would not be offered a contract for next year. In light of our success and significance, I found such a statement to be very confusing and unfair.

“There are many things I love about coaching and a few I hate:

“1) I hate cutting team members at the beginning of the season.

“2) I hate replacing a hard-working predecessor.

“3) I hate making coaching staff changes.

“4) I hate determining playing time and who should play JV.

“5) I hate defending coaching staff members regarding employment, as good coaches are hard to find and great coaches even harder.

“In my three years here, I have made these decisions as they are a part of my job description, and in so doing feelings get hurt. For that I am truly sorry.

“Our athletic website states: ‘The McClain Athletic focus will be the student athletes. All decisions made and considerations taken will be with the young people at McClain in mind.’ Facts and what is best for these kids [are] not being followed in this decision.

“I ask our board of education and superintendent to look for the good that has resulted from McClain basketball during my watch, put hurt and personal feelings aside, and make a professional decision to grant me the opportunity to remain in our School of Beauty building ‘good people, doing things right, making success just a matter of time. Thank you very much.”

After returning to the regular session, board member Eric Zint moved to “pull Ryan Olaker, basketball boys head coach, from the recommendations for employment of non-certified non-employees.” Board member Eric Wise seconded the motion, which passed 4-1, with board member Sandy Free dissenting.

Zint then moved to table the decision to hire Olaker as boys varsity basketball head coach to a future date by a 4-1 vote. Voting yes to table the decision were Roman, Zint, Wise and Marilyn Mitchell, while Free voted no.

After the board adjourned to a second executive session to discuss scholarships at 10:28 p.m., Roman told the remaining members of the audience, “I know you’re here for the basketball coach, but there’s not going to be a decision tonight.”

Stewart has been the varsity head coach at McClain since the 2018-19 season, and overall he’s coached 32 seasons in high school varsity basketball. Olaker was the JV boys head coach this past season.

The season before Stewart took over as head coach for McClain, they had three wins and 20 losses. In the three seasons that Stewart has coached the varsity Tigers the program has built a record of 37-30 with two winning seasons of 13-7 in 2020-21 and 15-8 in 2018-19. Before those two winning seasons, the previous winning season for McClain boys varsity basketball came in 2010-11.

In addition to the aforementioned induction into the Ohio High School District 14 Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014 — Stewart is also a three-time winner of the Associated Press Southeast District Coach of the Year award, an eight-time District 14 Coach of the Year winner and was awarded the Ohio Division II Coach of the Year award (1989). He earned his 350th career coaching victory during this past basketball season, on Dec. 22, 2020.

Stewart’s players shook hands with the coach and hugged him as they left Monday night.