JAY — Supporters of fired Spruce Mountain varsity girls basketball coach Zach Keene demanded he be reinstated by administrators at a public meeting on Monday night.

A crowd of about 50 community members filled the high school’s library for a meeting that lasted a little less than 90 minutes. Keene, who recently finished his third season as varsity head coach, was told at his annual end-of-season evaluation meeting by athletic director Marc Keller that he would not be rehired.

Before opening the floor for questions from the crowd, which included parents, high school and middle school basketball players and school board members, Keller said he could not reveal the reasons for Keene’s dismissal.

“If you ask questions regarding why, I can’t answer them,” he said. “That’s personnel policy. I can’t talk about that. What I am here to do is listen to your concerns and your comments and hear what you have to say because obviously this has a lot to do with youth.”

After a little less than an hour of questions and comments to Keller, some of the gathering asked Keene to speak.

Keene thanked the crowd for turning out before saying he wanted to discuss the reasons to “clear the air.”

“It means a lot to me. It means a lot to Mallory (Bonnevie, his wife). This is where we want to be,” he said.

Keene said no positive points of his coaching were discussed during his evaluation with Keller, and that some of the reasons for his termination had not been discussed prior to the evaluation.

“It was a lot of small things that, again, were not addressed with me throughout the season,” he said. “If I was addressed about these things throughout the year and they continued to happen, that would be one thing. And then for it to be held against me in my evaluation, I don’t think that is right.”

He said the reasons sited for his firing included holding a practice on a snow day during the season, his sideline conduct, dwindling numbers in the basketball program, acquiring his required CPR certification late and allowing his team to wear warm-up shirts that displayed a company logo, which he said he was told was not allowed by the Maine Principals’ Association.

Keene said he honored administrators’ request not to allow the shirts initially and did not allow them “until we were told that we could,” he said.

Technical fouls were also an issue cited, according to Keene.

“I’ve never claimed to be perfect with the officials. I don’t think any coach has claimed to be perfect with the officials, and I never will be perfect with the officials,” Keene said. “If my behavior on the sideline was an issue, it should have been a situation where I was pulled in and (told) this is unacceptable, this needs to change. That did not happen.”

Spruce Mountain girls basketball coach Zach Keene shouts directions to his players during a February 2018 postseason against Gray-New Gloucester at the Portland Expo. Sun Journal file photo

Keene said he was ordered to take a sportsmanship course, “which initially I took the wrong one, then I was given the right one to do, which I didn’t take in a timely matter.”

Keene admitted holding an optional practice on a snow day at the Area Youth Sports gym in Livermore Falls. School regulations do not permit coaches holding practices on snow days on school grounds. The AYS building is the former Livermore Falls Middle School but is no longer owned by the school district.

Addressing low numbers of players in the program, Keene said, “The numbers were an issue in the evaluation, and more or less put on my shoulders.”

“I do not agree with that one bit. I think the (school) policies don’t allow numbers to be as high as they could be,” he said.

Regarding the CPR certification, Keene said assistant coach Rachael Mastine was certified before the start of the season. After some confusion, he got his certification on Dec. 16, about a week into the regular season, “but if that’s fireable, I shouldn’t have been coaching up to that point to begin with,” he said.

Spruce Mountain went 24-33 during Keene’s three years at the helm, reaching the Class B South quarterfinals in 2018 and preliminary round in 2019.

Supporters who spoke called Keene a good role model for kids and a knowledgeable and caring coach. They said it

Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene speaks with his players during a summer-camp practices in Jay in 2018. Sun Journal file photo

was unfair to blame him for low numbers when athletic programs across the state and across sports are facing the same problem.

Junior guard Jaycee Cole said she and other players would not play basketball next year if Keene is not reinstated.

“I think you’re not going to find a better coach,” she said.

Auriana Armandi, a sophomore guard who played for Keene, said she wouldn’t feel comfortable with another coach next season.

“I’ve never had a coach that genuinely cared about me on a personal level,” she said. “I’ve been really discouraged with basketball before, and he encouraged me and told me what I need to work on to get better and ‘You should stick to it.’ I don’t think another coach can be like that.”

Travis White of Livermore Falls called Keene a “rising star” in the coaching ranks and said his firing is the latest example of administration not backing their coaches.

“We’re not attracting coaches. Spruce Mountain is not going to attract a top-notch coach. We’ve gotten rid of so many really good coaches that have gone on to other places and flourished.”

Tammy Frost, a member of the school board from Livermore Falls, said she’s seen “a lot of coaches quit because of parents, because the administrators don’t have their back. I’ve seen it at every level.”

“I think when we have a good coach that the parents are standing behind, we need to keep them, unless it’s an offense that would be fireable,” she said. “I don’t know if there is more than petty offenses here or if it’s a personal issue, but I really think we need to look at it. I’ve never seen a group of parents like this in my years here stand up for a coach.”

Keller said he met with principal TJ Plourde after his evaluation with Keene and that Plourde, who was not at Monday night’s meeting, agreed with his decision to not re-hire Keene. Keller said Plourde also told him to discuss the decision with RSU 73 interim superintendent Robert Webster, but that Webster did not have to give his consent.

Some asked Keller what the next step is to get Keene reinstated.

“I will talk to (Plourde) about what you have brought up tonight,” he said. “My expectation is that it needs to go to the school board.”

“No decision will be made tonight,” he added.