Winter Haven High School Dismisses Volleyball Coach Over Violations
Wed. September 12, 2012 at 10:27 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
By LISA COFFEY
WINTER HAVEN | Less than two weeks after a Winter Haven High School assistant volleyball coach was fired over a unauthorized Facebook post supporting slain black teenager Trayvon Martin, the longtime head volleyball coach also was fired this week.
Tanya Wooten, 37, who was in her seventh season as head coach and ninth with the program, was let go after a meeting with Athletic Director Steve Beasley and Principal Gina Williams on Tuesday afternoon.
Wooten was fired for violations of School Board policy that came to light after a controversial post on an unauthorized volleyball team Facebook page.
The post included a photo of the girls on the team wearing hoodies and words that supported Martin, who was fatally shot in an altercation with neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman in Sanford earlier this year.
The Facebook post was taken down one day after it was put up, at Beasley's request. Parents of Polk County school students must sign a consent form granting parties the right to photograph or videotape their children. However, the photo was taken before school started.
The girls on the team were not told what the photograph would be used for, and the school determined that the Facebook post violated School Board policy that prohibits employees from participating in advertisements for political views or using students in such a manner.
Ty Ellis, an assistant coach with the team and the administrator of the Facebook page, was fired in that case.
But during the investigation of that case, the school learned that Wooten had allowed some of the students to drive other students in their cars to team events.
Wooten and Ellis also held a daylong, team-bonding event Aug. 18 in Winter Haven. The bonding involved a scavenger hunt in the Winter Haven area in which students drove their own vehicles. According to Beasley, in some cases, multiple students were in some vehicles.
"We would not allow students to drive themselves to an athletic event," Beasley said. "It was also a violation of policy to send kids around in their own cars to participate in a school function."
Beasley also admitted that this is not the first time the team has done such an activity.
"We weren't aware of it or we would have stopped it," he said. "Another factor (in the firing) was that as head coach, she is responsible for everything that happens within her program. And the picture that was taken in practice, she had to be held at least partially accountable for."
Other smaller issues also led to the firing including the question of a team practice on the Labor Day holiday, which is not a violation of school policy, and both coaches telling the student athletes they didn't need to tell their parents everything that is going on in volleyball.
"Those who know me know I have always put the girls first and have worked extremely hard to build Winter Haven girls volleyball program into a successful one," Wooten wrote by email Wednesday. "My girls know my heart. They know I will always be here for them."
A former coach with the program, Derrick Bennett, 29, of Winter Haven has been named volunteer interim coach.
Bennett worked with the program in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.
"He comes with a lot of volleyball knowledge," Beasley said. "He's been an assistant in a few different high schools and was currently available."
He is a former George Jenkins volleyball manager who learned the game from Florida Southern College All-American Kathy McManus.
He played libero on the men's team at Warner University, where he earned a degree in exercise science with a minor in coaching.
Bennett has worked with the local AaWamb and Impact Volleyball club programs. He also has assisted at Lakeland Christian and Bartow.
Through his various positions, he's coached all but one of the Winter Haven players at one time or another.
"I'm very grateful for this opportunity," he said. "It's a good fit. I hope we have a great run this year and we definitely have the personnel to do it."