CHAPEL HILL — The one question that members of the Chapel Hill High School basketball team had when they heard the administration wanted to go in different direction, was ‘why?’
Chapel Hill High School announced three new head coaches at Thursday’s school board meeting — most notably a new basketball coach — to replace Lason Perkins, who in one year as interim head coach finished with a 19-8 record and tied for first place in the Big East conference.
Bill Walton will be the new boys’ basketball coach at CHHS, while Greg Cain will take over the softball program and Jason Curtis will coach soccer. Carrboro also announced one change: Melvin Griffin will be the Jaguars’ new football coach.
When asked why they thought Perkins did not have his contract renewed, his players and assistants were perplexed.
“We’re trying to figure that out,” Deearnest McLemore, an assistant coach for Chapel Hill High’s basketball team, said. “It’s really no reason. I don’t know why he’s not coming back.”
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Assistant Coach Rob Jones added after watching the board vote to confirm the coaching changes.
Coaches as well as current and former players spoke at Thursday night’s school board meeting during public comment, in an attempt to lobby to keep Perkins’ job. One talked about of the team’s graduating seniors going on to four-year colleges. A couple talked about the success of the program. Others talked about the impact Perkins has had on them.
However, by then it was too late. The board had already voted 5-0 to accept the new hires.
“I won’t coach for anybody other than Coach Perkins,” McLemore said.
“I’ve known Coach Perkins for 15 years. Since I’ve moved down here, he’s like a father-figure to me.” he said “... For him to get removed without knowing why is a real big problem because we never knew what we were being evaluated on, and what they were looking for and what they were wanting.”
Perkins was the chief assistant coach under Tod Morgan, subbing as the CHHS head coach when Morgan was on leave for the birth of his first child during the 2011-12 season.
Morgan, who had coached the Tigers to successive conference championships and deep runs into the playoffs, decided late last spring to leave Chapel Hill to rejoin his family in New Bern, and Perkins took over as interim.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Jeremy Werden, a 12th-grader and player on the basketball team said. “I thought we had a good thing going. I didn’t see the need for change. We have a team of players who have bought into a system. It kind of hurts that the system might not be there anymore and the success that we have had for previous years may not carry into future success.”
Bill Walton, not to be confused with the legendary UCLA and NBA basketball player, hopes to arrive at Chapel Hill by Monday morning, bringing with him an accomplished resume.
A 28-year basketball veteran, Walton had an eight-year run as head basketball coach at Reidsville High School, 2005 to this year, where his teams went 145-72. Four of his teams had at least 20 wins. His 2012 Rams dominated the Mid-State 2A Conference and finished 26-4 after losing to eventual state champion Kinston in the NCHSAA 2A East Region finals.
Prior to that, Walton coached Greensboro Grimsley, 1989-2002, getting the Whirlies into multiple NCHSAA West sectionals, and Southwest Guilford, 2002-2004.
“I’ve watched the Chapel Hill program for years, and I’m delighted to have this opportunity,” Walton said. “I feel honored to be part of Chapel Hill High School. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The other changes in staff:
• Melvin Griffin will follow Jason Tudryn in the post. Tudryn resigned earlier this year to take a new position with the University of North Carolina football program. Griffin is a familiar face at Carrboro High, where he teaches math and has served as an assistant football coach since the varsity program started in 2007. He also helped initialize Carrboro’s track team.
“Coach Griffin has extensive knowledge and experience in football, and we have the utmost respect and confidence in his abilities to lead our program,” Carrboro High Athletic Director April Ross said in a statement emailed by the school system’s offices. “We are currently seeking qualified assistant coaches to complete our football coaching staff.”
• Greg Cain succeeds Kacey Blackmon as softball coach. Cain was the swimming coach at Chapel Hill, 2000-2008, leading the Tigers to top finishes in the N.C. High School Athletics Association championship meets. In 2008, Cain’s Tigers became the only program to win both the 4A girls’ and boys’ championship since the NCHSAA divided swimming into three classifications in 2002.
• Jason Curtis, who was previously assistant soccer coach for boy’s and girl’s team, will become the head coach of both teams. He will replace Ron Benson, who retired at the end of the recently concluded season. He helped CHHS win its first state championship in girl’s soccer.
“Each one brings valuable experience and strong leadership to our athletic program,” Tim Bennett, Athletic Director at Chapel Hill High, said in a prepared statement. “ We look forward to working with them this upcoming season as they continue to build on this past season’s success.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1