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published: Friday, December 21, 2012
Protesters want to know why the man who built program from scratch was ousted
FRANK JOLLEY | Staff Writer
East Ridge High School is officially without a football coach.
Fans, friends and former players of longtime Knights coach Bud O'Hara have taken to the streets to start the process of getting him back on the sidelines of the program he built from the ground up.
Approximately 30 O'Hara supporters turned up outside the gates to East Ridge on Monday, spending more than three hours in the morning sun with a bullhorn and signs, demonstrating against the decision by principal Julie Robinson-Lueallen to dismiss O'Hara -- the only football coach in the school's 11-year history.
O'Hara will continue as the girls weightlifting coach and said he will finish the school year as a physical education teacher. He said on Friday that Robinson-Lueallen told him he would not be retained as football coach, but was not given a reason for the dismissal.
Robinson-Lueallen did not return repeated requests on Friday and Monday for comment.
"Coach O'Hara deserves to be treated better than he has been by the current school administrators," said Timmy Dye, who played for O'Hara from 2003-2005 and was one of O'Hara's supporters at Monday's rally. "It makes no sense for him to be fired as football coach and he certainly should've been told why he was being fired. The man built our football program and he's been a father to every player who has worn an East Ridge uniform. He's more East Ridge than anyone in Clermont.
"There is no excuse for what is going on in that school right now!"
Supporters remained off school property throughout the rally. They used a bullhorn to implore passers-by to honk their car horns in support of O'Hara and waved signs showing their support for the coach.
Countless drivers in cars and school buses did show such support. Some stopped briefly to ask for more information. When traffic began backing up, Lake County Sheriff's deputies showed up to ensure that traffic flowed smoothly around the entrances to East Ridge High School and Middle School.
At one point, a deputy requested that supporters not turn their bullhorn speaker toward the schools for fear that it would create a disruption inside classrooms -- a request with which they willingly complied. The rally was peaceful and there were no arrests.
Supporters hoped a school administrator would eventually come out and offer an explanation, but no one ever did. The group hopes to get more answers in January, when they plan to speak at a meeting of the Lake County School Board.
The group also has taken to the Internet to build support. A Facebook page, "Reinstate Bud O'Hara" was created Saturday morning and had more than 200 "likes" less than six hours after it was started. The page surpassed 500 "likes" on Monday and was nearing 700 "likes" on Thursday.
Many supporters who visited the Facebook page felt moved to leave comments praising O'Hara's impact on high-school football in south Lake County.
"I personally do not know Coach (O'Hara)," wrote Jana Dyer Parker. "Having a son who plays high-school football in south Lake County, I have only heard awesome words about him and the positive impact he has on our youth. I support Coach Bud O'Hara!"
O'Hara, who is recovering following hip-replacement surgery, was not at school on Monday and did not attend the rally.
When he does return to school O'Hara said he planned to speak with the football team and give players the best explanation he can offer.
"Those kids deserve some kind of explanation," O'Hara said.
Hearing about the rally, O'Hara said he felt "honored and blessed" with the support.
"I've been around so many incredible people during my time at East Ridge," O'Hara said. "From coaches to parents to the kids who have played for me, I've been so lucky. To learn that so many people feel the way they do about me is incredibly humbling.
"I'm just doing the work God has asked me to do."
O'Hara had an 87-37 record in 11 years at East Ridge. He led the Knights into the postseason eight times and won at least 10 game on four separate occasions.
He has coached for 43 years and has a 254-115-1 career mark. He won back-to-back state titles at Indianola (Miss.) High School in the 1970s and directed the Knights to a No. 1 ranking in Class 6A in 2005.
During his career, O'Hara also coached at Leesburg.
According to information released by Lake County Schools, Robinson-Lueallen will form a "committee of stakeholders" that will include school staff, booster club members and parents. The committee, according to the release, will vet viable coaching candidates.
No timeline for naming a replacement has been given.