Coaching was my life for a long time. Then it was part of my life for an even longer time. There’s a difference.
I coached school sports for parts of five decades in the Georgia High School Association. My players would tell you that I was a firm and inflexible task master — especially during the early years. Having children of my own mellowed me. It also made me a less effective coach, in some ways, because I didn’t spend nearly as much time with my teams once I had my own children to be at home with. They needed their daddy more than those other kids needed a coach, at least to my way of thinking.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t ignore my duties and responsibilities. I just tempered them a bit.
I tell you all of that to say that I understand the issues of which I am about to speak. I have been there. I have spent a lot of time there. I know what people think about winning and losing and making a point and so forth and so on ad nauseam.
Once when my Timex watch stopped, during an evening that my boys’ basketball team had late practice, the mothers in the parking lot drew straws to see who would come inside the forbidden sanctum of the Cousins gym and ask if we were ever going to end practice.
Margaret Autry, one of the sweetest women God ever created, drew the short straw, but ever Margaret — she simply said, “Coach Huckaby, will our boys be coming home tonight, or should we just all go home and come back with breakfast in the morning?”
I was so nonplused that I could hardly speak until I discovered the true time, then I was so embarrassed that I sent the team to the showers immediately, without the obligatory sets of wind sprints. I get it, in other words.
But Imani Bell is dead. And the people responsible for her death have been very, very slow in coming forward with explanations.
Imani, in case you missed the story, was a bright young lady who lived over in Clayton County. She was a good student with a bright future and took part in a multitude of school activities. One of them was girl’s basketball.
She attended, and played basketball, at Elite Scholars Academy, which sounds like it would be a private school, but isn’t. A quick look at the school’s website reveals that they are a Clayton County School that’s self-stated mission is “to be accountable to all stakeholders for providing a globally competitive education that empowers students to achieve academic and personal goals and to become college and career ready, productive, responsible citizens.”
“To be accountable to all stakeholders.”
I’d say that Imani Bell’s family certainly qualifies as stakeholders in the Elite Scholars Academy. According to published reports, the Clayton County School System has not been particularly accountable to them and is slow to respond to the circumstances surrounding her death.
Yes, death. Did I leave that part out?
On Aug. 13, the hottest day in three years, Imani and her teammates were conditioning for the upcoming basketball season — outside— after school. I am perplexed either way, because when I retired from coaching, in 2011, the GHSA had strict guidelines about what coaches could and could not do with their teams once school started, and I am certain that group practices, with or without a ball, were not allowed for basketball squads until October.
At any rate, Ms. Bell was conditioning outside with her team — legally or in violation of the rules — on a day when the temperature reached 100 degrees and the heat index reached 109 around 4 p.m. According to her family, Imani complained to one of her coaches that she wasn’t feeling well. I don’t think anyone would be feeling well if they were running outside with the heat index at 109.
Clayton County school policy, by the way, is to suspend all outdoor athletic activity if the heat index reaches 95. I think I mentioned that it was 109 on Aug. 13. But you know how it is. The school has a girls’ varsity game scheduled against Hebron on Dec. 3, according to the school website. Got to get in shape. According to the family, a coach told Imani to run the stadium steps.
Outside. After school. In 100-degree heat. With the heat index at 109. On Aug. 13. After being told that she wasn’t feeling well.
At 5:52 the Clayton County Fire Department received a distress call. Imani Bell had collapsed in the heat and would be pronounced dead.
What a waste. What a terrible, horrible, tragic waste.
May Imani Bell rest in peace, and may authorities not rest at all until every avenue is explored and every step is taken to keep another tragedy like this from ever happening again — anywhere.