Rose Coach Returns To Classroom, But Not Football Field

By: Dan Yesenosky
By: Dan Yesenosky

Pitt County Schools say a suspended coach and county athletic director are returning to their jobs. But the coach remains suspended from his sports duties.

Spokeswoman Heather Mayo says J.H. Rose Head Football Coach Todd Lipe returned to his teaching position yesterday, while Athletic Director Ron Butler is resuming his job today.

Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory says Lipe remains suspended from his coaching duties at Rose.

The two were suspended with pay back on October 31st, reportedly because of the Maleek Gorham dispute.

At an afternoon news conference, Emory says a team will be established to investigate future student residency questions. "The Athletic Department of the district will no longer be the key or the focal point of ineligibility -- the determination of where a student lives and therefore the issue of their eligibility athletically cannot be the responsibility of one person and it will not remain in the Athletic Department ," said Emory.



Previous Story

A Pitt County School Board meeting Tuesday shed little light on several recent suspensions and firings at area high schools and sources tell us The county athletic director who was suspended, Ron Butler, is scheduled to meet with school board leaders tomorrow.

The Pitt County School Board went into closed session about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday. Many are waiting to hear details about what's happening with the suspensions of D.H. Conley running back Maleek Gorham, J.H. Rose head coach Todd Lipe and county athletic director Ron Butler.

We are also still waiting to hear more about allegations of hazing among Conley boys' soccer team players that resulted in the firing of two coaches.

It could be at least December before any official information is released.

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The Pitt County School Board meets Tuesday afternoon in another closed door session. The last time this happened a high school coach and county athletic director with connections to the Maleek Gorham case were suspended. WITN will be at today's meeting to see if anything comes out in public.

At last week's very crowded, very emotional Pitt County School Board meeting, officials promised quick decisions in the suspensions of J.H. Rose head coach Todd Lipe and Pitt County Athletic Director Ron Butler, along with the ineligibility ruling of Gorham. Gorham was suspended from playing sports at D.H. Conley earlier this fall after the state ruled he did not live where his family claimed he did.

The notice of today's closed door meeting says it is to "prevent the disclosure of privileged information under FERPA." FERPA is a federal law called The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, enacted to protect student educational records.

The meeting notice also says an attorney will be consulted, along with considering the "qualifications, competence, performance, condition of appointment of public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or hear or investigate a complaint charge, or grievance by or against a public officer or employee."


Previous Story
It was a loud and tense scene Monday night at the Pitt County School Board meeting. The main issue at hand: high school football stemming from a D.H. Conley player Maleek Gorham being ruled ineligible last month and banned from playing any sport for 365 days and suspensions last week of 2 Pitt County Schools employees: J.H. Rose head coach Todd Lipe and Pitt County Athletic Director Ron Butler.

The room was packed with supporters of both D.H. Conley and J.H. Rose who were hoping to speak their minds on the recent decisions, but they were silenced by technicalities.

"The board asks that I step down because I mention the report Dr. Emory referred to? If I did I apologize for breaking a rule," said one commenter.

That report being the county's investigation into the ineligibility of Conley football player Maleek Gorham, as well as the suspensions of J.H. Rose head coach Todd Lipe and county athletic director Ron Butler.

"I can't say athletic director?" asked another commenter.

Just about everybody was silenced by in-house counsel Rob Sonnenberg who said referring to a specific employee or student was not allowed.

"I respect everybody's emotions and intense feelings but my job is also to make sure we protect these peoples' rights in the law," said Sonnenberg.

As the meeting came to a close with a frustrated crowd, one board member expressed her concerns about the situation.
Mary B. Williams says she's done receiving threatening calls about the board's recent decisions on Gorham, Lipe, and Butler.

"I shouldn't feel like my safety is in jeopardy at any time," said Williams.

Those in attendance may have been silenced, but Monday night, Williams made her thoughts known loud and clear.

Mr. Sonnenberg showed WITN the board rule in writing and agreed that rapid action is necessary on how to respond to the situation.

Rose didn't make the playoffs, but Conley won it's first round game last week. They'll play this Friday against Cleveland.


Previous Story
A local school board could get an earful tonight from parents upset over a high school football controversy.

Tonight's Pitt County School Board meeting will include public comment time, and it's widely expected many will seek to speak about Maleek Gorham. He's the junior who the state ruled ineligible to play sports for D.H. Conley, after finding overwhelming evidence he did not live in the right district, where his family claimed he was living.

Gorham tried to get that suspension overturned in court Friday, to allow him to play in Friday night's game, but the court did not grant that request.

Conley won their Friday night game to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Supporters of Gorham are expected to speak out, as are supporters of J.H. Rose football coach Todd Lipe and county athletic director Ron Butler. The two were suspended, though school officials are not allowed to say why.

The school board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the 2nd Floor County Commissioners’ Auditorium of the Pitt County Office Complex at 1717 West Fifth Street, Greenville.


Previous Story

A federal judge has denied a temporary restraining order that would have allowed a Pitt County teenager to play football tonight.

Chief Judge James Dever III issued the ruling in the Maleek Gorham case around 3:20 p.m., just hours before D.H. Conley High School was to play in the state playoffs tonight against Triton High School.

The hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in Raleigh began around 2:00 p.m.

Judge Dever says in order for the case to be heard in federal court there had to be a property interest. He says playing football is not a property. The judge even asked the Gorham's family attorney if he was in the right courtroom, indicating that they should try a state court instead.

Attorney David Sutton claimed it was a violation of the due process clause. Sutton says with the judge's ruling there is nowhere for them to go from here.

The judge told Sutton he wasn't dismissing the case, that if the attorney wanted to present it on a different way he could. But Sutton told WITN News that there is no further recourse at this point

The D.H. Conley running back was ruled ineligible to play football this year because of a residency question.

Gorham transferred from Rose prior to this season and has been suspended for 365 days by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. They say there was overwhelming evidence that Gorham did not live in the Conley school district.


Previous Story

A Greenville attorney will be in a federal courtroom this afternoon asking a judge to allow a Pitt County teenager to play football tonight.

David Sutton says he is representing the mother of the D.H. Conley running back Maleek Gorham who was ruled ineligible to play football this year because of a residency question. The injunction asks that the teen be allowed to play in Friday night's playoff game. The hearing is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at the U.S. Courthouse in Raleigh.

"I think this has just messed my future up with everything that's happened," Gorham told WITN. "It's basically taken away my whole junior year, and that's when most of the colleges look at you."

Gorham transferred from Rose prior to this season and has been suspended for 365 days by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. They say there was overwhelming evidence that Gorham did not live in the Conley school district.

Late Thursday afternoon Pitt County Schools issued the following statement: "We have just received notice of the filing. We would reserve any potential comments until after our legal council (sic) has had an opportunity to thoroughly review the documents."


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