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

 

Zach Keene is  returning as Spruce Mountain’s girls varsity basketball coach.

Administrators reinstated Keene after a meeting on Wednesday.

“I’m definitely excited,” Keene said. “It’s obviously what the girls wanted. At the end of the day, we put them first and figured it out.”

Keene, who has coached the Phoenix for three seasons, was informed by athletic director Marc Keller that he would not be asked to return as coach during his regular end-of-season evaluation on March 28.

A public meeting was held April 1 with Keller and Keene among those in attendance to discuss the decision. About 50 people, including players, parents and school board members, filled the high school library and overwhelmingly expressed their support for Keene.

“I heard a lot of what the parents had to say and what the kids had to say, most importantly,” Keller said, “and recognized that coach Keene is a vital part of our school and community.”

Keller, Keene and principal TJ Plourde met on April 2 and continued discussions through a meeting involving all three on Wednesday where Keene accepted administrators’ offer to be reinstated.

“We had some things that we needed to work through in order to make this happen and I think what we’ve done is going to be what’s best for our kids and for our school, and I’m happy that we were able to work something out,” Keller said.

Asked if there were any conditions with Keene’s return, Keller declined further comment. Keene, who at the April 1 public meeting talked about the reasons he was given for his firing during the March 28 evaluation meeting, said he worked with administrators to develop “an action plan for things moving forward.”

At the April 1 meeting, Keene said the reasons he was given for his termination involved 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 is against Maine Principals’ Association rules.

Supporters who spoke at that meeting said the reasons cited were in some instances unfair and weren’t sufficient to let go of a coach who was a good coach, a good role model and genuinely cared for his players. One player said that she did not think she would continue to play if Keene was not the coach next season and said other players felt the same way.

Keene said the support at the meeting and in the nearly two weeks since he was fired was key to administrators reconsidering their decision.

“It was huge. I think it was huge for everybody to see the support that was there,” Keene said. “And, obviously, it was appreciated on my end. It was pretty crazy how many people reached out to me and supported me during it.”

Keene said he also appreciated Plourde and Keller keeping in communication with him since that meeting to work on a solution.

The Phoenix went 24-33 in Keene’s first three years as coach. They reached the tournament in his second and third years, losing in the Class B South quarterfinals in 2018 and preliminary round in 2019.

Editor’s note: This story was updated from an earlier version which incorrectly reported the reinstatement required RSU 73 school board approval.