D210415 hartselle coach

Hartselle softball head coach Christy Ferguson talks with a player in the dugout during a game against Bob Jones in 2013. She won state championships at Hartselle in 2014 and 2018. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY/FILE]

HARTSELLE — The departure of a two-time state champion head coach from Hartselle High's softball program stunned former players and came after administrators thought she improperly told the current team the identity of a player out with a COVID-19 infection, a supporter of the coach said.

Christy Ferguson, who has been with Hartselle City Schools as a physical education teacher and coach for 23 years, relinquished the head softball coaching duties effective immediately, according to a letter Tuesday from Hartselle High Principal Brad Cooper to team supporters.

Hartselle City Schools Superintendent Dee Dee Jones declined to discuss why Ferguson is no longer the coach.

“We needed to make a change," Jones said. "We appreciate her work and dedication. I cannot comment any further.”

Ferguson has been Hartselle's head coach for nine seasons, winning state championships in 2014 and 2018. She was also an assistant coach on the team during two stints totaling 11 years.

Jones said Ferguson will retain her duties as a physical education teacher at Hartselle Junior High School.

Ferguson did not return a call seeking a comment.

Anna Byrd Holland, one of the supporters for Ferguson, said the community feels Ferguson was “unjustly” removed from her job after a parent complained to the administration about the coach sharing health information about the player.

Holland said Ferguson was told she violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that protects the privacy of student education records.

She said Ferguson was notified of the administration's decision on Monday.

“(The administration) acted on that. It wasn’t a secret. The other girls had been texting with (the infected player) about having COVID,” Holland said. “We’re all so blown away by this. If this is the case, the school system should have educated the coaches and teachers on that. It’s an outrageous reason to suspend an amazing coach. The players love her as a coach and the positive impact on their lives outside of sports.”

Holland, a 35-year-old nurse practitioner in Hartselle, played third base on the 2003 Hartselle softball team that won the state championship when Ferguson was an assistant coach. 

The letter from Cooper said, “In conjunction with Coach Ferguson and the HCS administration, the decision has been made for Coach Ferguson to step down as the leader of the Hartselle High School softball program, effective immediately. Assistant coaches currently with the softball program will lead the team for the remainder of the season.” 

Holland called Cooper’s letter to supporters misleading.

“The letter sounds like she agreed to step down. That is not the case,” Holland said. “The community is in an uproar, and I think the letter was written to try to calm the community down. But we’re not going to calm down until there is justice for Christy. We want her returned back to her job as coach.”

She said a “peaceful protest” is planned to take place at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Hundreds of comments supporting Ferguson have been posted on social media the past couple of days. Supporters have launched a yard sign and T-shirt campaign for the ousted coach with a portion of the proceeds going to Ferguson. According to the school’s website, Ferguson receives an $8,000 annual supplement as head softball coach.

“What happened to her was unjust and we want justice for Christy Ferguson,” Holland said. “We want an apology from the system. She’s so much more than a coach and teacher. She’s worth everything we can do for her.”

Les Stuedeman, softball coach at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said she was disappointed the Hartselle administration failed to support Ferguson.

“It’s a new world and the people who made that decision to let her go as a coach are living in the old world,” Stuedeman said. “The administration might find somebody who will write in a different starting lineup, but you won’t find anybody that cares more for her players and for Hartselle. Her character and moral fiber are unequaled. Who can you get that is better suited for the job?”

Ferguson worked as an assistant under Stuedeman 10 years ago.

Stuedeman said the UAH coaches have had “no training on (the FERPA). I don’t know any coaches who have.”

Alabama Education Association District 5 Uniserve Director Wendy Lang said Ferguson is not an AEA member and the association cannot assist her in this situation.

“We represent coaches, too,” Lang said. “But she is not a member with us.”

Hartselle’s softball game at home against Muscle Shoals was rained out Wednesday afternoon. The Tigers are 15-13 on the year.

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel. Sports writer David Elwell contributed to this story.

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