Smithfield High students petition to reinstate former coach

Published 6:34 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition seeking the reinstatement of former Smithfield High School head varsity football coach Devondre Bazemore.

Bazemore, a physical education teacher at SHS, recently learned his supplemental coaching contract would not be renewed for the 2022-23 school year.

“It was unexpected,” said Bazemore, who told The Smithfield Times he’d learned of the decision via “a conversation” with school officials regarding “concerns for player development and production on-field.”

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According to Bazemore, COVID-19 and the state’s associated guidelines and restrictions have kept the SHS packers from having a full offseason since he became head coach in 2020.

“Each season we had a couple of weeks to actually prepare,” Bazemore said, during which “football was secondary to a lot of the scares and troubles of living in a worldwide pandemic.”

Despite this, the No. 8-seeded Packers made the regional playoffs in 2021, but fell to the No. 1-seeded Kings’ Fork High School Bulldogs in last year’s Region 4A quarterfinal game, 42-0.

Coaching contracts are approved annually. According to Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, Bazemore will remain a high school PE teacher. Briggs declined to comment on the reasons Smithfield High decided to replace him as head coach, calling the issue a “personnel matter.”

SHS football player Jacob Miller started the petition on May 11, writing that Bazemore was “more than just a football coach” to the team and had been “wrongfully relieved from his duties.” As of May 17, the petition had received 1,195 online signatures.

Eight other coaches with Smithfield High’s football program also received verbal notice that they would not be returning to their roles this fall. Among them was Derek Boone, the school’s former head junior varsity coach, who spoke at the Isle of Wight County School Board’s May 12 meeting in defense of Bazemore and the football program.

“As you can see, the kids are here for a reason,” Boone told the School Board, standing at the lectern in front of nearly a dozen students, many wearing their SHS football jackets. He then urged the board to “reconsider” going through the process of hiring a new head coach.

According to Roy Gilbert, Smithfield High’s former junior varsity defensive coordinator, the reason he was told he would no longer be employed as a coach next school year was “because we were not winning enough” and there were “concerns” about player development.

“We only had one full season under Coach Bazemore, and the varsity program made it to the playoffs under that full season,” Gilbert told the School Board. “The JV program went 7-3, so I’m a little concerned about what the definition of ‘winning’ is.”

Reggie Jetton Jr., a 17-year-old player, then called Bazemore “a mentor, a father figure and a leader.”

“He changed many young men’s lives in this community that was going in the wrong direction,” added Torsha Lee of Carrollton.

School Board member John Collick, following the public comment period, told the crowd he’d not heard of the personnel changes until that evening, but his “interest has sparked.”

Board Chairwoman Denise Tynes, however, said board members should “stay in our lane” and leave personnel matters to school principals and Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton’s office.