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NHS football, other athletics programs avoids cuts

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following story when originally published contained factual errors. The story has been corrected below. We regret the errors and are happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Bulldog football team will get a common 10-game regular season to sink their teeth into during the 2014 season.

Nearly 50 schools in Mississippi, including Natchez High School, won’t be taken over by the state department of education in September regardless of how students perform on annual state tests in May thanks to legislation signed into law in April.

Those schools would have been taken over if student scores on the tests resulted in an “F” rating for the schools.

The takeover would have resulted in all school employees being terminated and athletic programs taking a hit, such as the football team losing half its season.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill said the district’s new “takeover clock” begins with the 2013-14 school year. Should any school in Natchez-Adams Schools District receive a failing status in 2013-14, the district would receive a warning. If the school were to repeat a failing status in the following school year, action, such as terminations and reduced seasons, would be taken by the state.

District officials received a warning from the state under the old law, which was a three-year cycle dating back to 2011-12 before being replaced by the new two-year cycle that begins next school year.

Athletics took a hit in 2013 when cuts to salaries were issued in July because of budget constraints.

“Everybody’s salary was cut other than teachers,” Hill said. “My salary and the coaching supplement and every administrator’s salary were cut. It wasn’t an indictment on athletics. We’re cutting everywhere that didn’t have a direct impact on academics. I refuse to cut teachers. I refuse to lay them off.”

Hill said the cut to salaries among coaches and administrators varied between 20 to 25 percent.

Part of Hill’s restructuring of the high school, which will go into effect this fall, includes removing the seventh period coaches used for athletic periods for coaches who aren’t physical education teachers.

Hill’s plan in place gives every coach that has a physical education certification the option to have an athletic period, while other coaches, like former Natchez High School football coach Lance Reed, who teach mathematics or another subject that’s tested will likely not be given that same opportunity.

“We can’t give up that extra period to teachers in a tested area,” Hill said. “At this point, we don’t know what the schedule will look like because it’s so early.”

Hill is strong on his stance on academic importance. He is adamant about academics being top priority on the totem pole.

“Athletics is a support system for academics,” Hill said. “Academics have to be at the top.”

While NHS athletic manager Beatrice Collins agreed that academics should be at the top of the hierarchy in school districts, she also understands the impact athletics can have on a school that makes it “almost” as essential to schools.

“There are a lot of students who participate in athletics, and if they weren’t involved, they would probably drop out of school,” Collins said. “Just like a student could earn a scholarship for academics, he or she could earn one with athletics as well.”

Collins said Natchez is in the process of accepting applications for the new football coach, and Hill said he will eventually make a recommendation, but he will leave the decision up to the athletics supervisor and principal.

As for a potential decision regarding elminating games, MHSAA assistant director Robert Holloway said it would be Hill’s call should the school produce failing scores.

The staff at NHS will have to replace Reed, assistants Trey Woodard and Ivan Evans and baseball head coach Brian Kossum.

“I would be crazy to say I’m not worried about the timetable, but, Natchez has a strong enough athletic reputation to recruit candidates,” Hill said.