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Friday, Aug. 24, 2018: N.J. politician seeks job security for coaches

   Leading off today: A New Jersey assemblyman who also coaches high school football is drafting a bill aimed at preventing public school coaches from being unjustly removed from their positions.

   Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who is also the head football coach at Hackensack High, said his legislation is in response to several coaches across the state not being renewed under suspect circumstances following conflicts with school board members, parents and/or administrators, and that he hopes to post the bill in the coming months.

   "We need some protection, and it's long overdue," he said.

   Wimberly's initial approach seeks a three-year contract for head coaches and a two-year contract for assistants. Termination would be limited to "just cause" and coaches would need to receive notice almost immediately following their season if they are not to be renewed. The bill will also call for coaches who are tenured district employees to be afforded one year to correct "identified deficiencies" if a poor annual performance review is the impetus for non-renewal.

   While New Jersey teachers receive tenure a day into their fifth year in a district, coaches work under one-year contracts.

   Speaking of coaches ... Two former Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls lacrosse coaches filed a federal lawsuit against the district this week, alleging their firing was mishandled and stigmatized them in the public's eye.

   Head coach Jake McHerron and assistant Mary Lou Vosburgh both allege that their future job prospects were harmed after the district abruptly suspended them and refused to accept a request for the coaches to defend themselves.

   The two were placed on leave shortly before the Section 2 tournament last spring. Though neither district officials nor McHerron have detailed the issue, sources told The Daily Gazette that at least one parent had complained about hard practices.

   The complaint filed in federal court names the district as well as Superintendent Patrick McGrath, high school Principal Tim Brunson and AD Joe Scalise.

   The attorney for the coaches said the suit doesn't contest their dismissal but rather challenges how the district investigated the parent complaints and its refusal to give the coaches a chance for a "name-clearing" hearing.

   On the move: Corning's school board voted Wednesday to approve the hire of Bill Hopkins as boys basketball coach a month after he was let go after 10 seasons at Elmira Notre Dame.

   "I'm not the youngest chicken in the coop, but I still think I have enough energy to give to the players," he said. "It invigorates me to be starting from scratch."

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   Hopkins, 66, takes over for John Fesetch, who stepped down after four seasons that included a Section 4 title in 2014.

   Hopkins has 35 years of experience with stops at Elmira Heights Edison, Elmira College, Corning East and Notre Dame.

    • Randy Thomas has been appointed AD at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill following the departure of Duey Weimer, who is now the athletic director at Victor.

   Thomas, employed at V-V-S since 1999, has coached soccer, football, basketball, softball, baseball, track and tennis.

    • Jim Burke has come out of retirement to serve as interim athletic director at Prattsburgh. The hall of famer coached the Vikings' boys and girls basketball teams simultaneously for several seasons.

   Canastota athlete dies: Canastota football player and wrestler Coby Stevens died Thursday afternoon in a single-vehicle accident, police said.

   The Madison County Sheriff's Office said Stevens, 16, was killed after his pickup truck swerved off a road and hit a tree. An unidentified passenger was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries, deputies said.

   The Canastota Central School District provided crisis counselors Friday for students and staff.

   "He always had a smile for his classmates and teachers and he will be remembered as a loyal friend and teammate," district Superintendent June Clarke said in a statement.

   Extra points: Niagara-Wheatfield, Starpoint and North Tonawanda will field a combined girls ice hockey team this season.

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