NORMAN, Okla. — When Anthony Kendall went into work Nov. 17, he didn’t know it would be his last day with Norman Public Schools.
Anthony had worked in the district as a teacher assistant and coach for nine years, with previous experience at other school district. At the beginning of the school year, he was contracted to work at both Longfellow and Whittier middle schools as a teaching assistant, as well as coaching the Longfellow basketball team.
On Nov. 16, his teams played Whittier’s three basketball teams. The game between Longfellow’s and Whittier’s varsity teams started as a physical game.
“We were getting beat pretty soundly, there is no doubt about that,” Kendall said.
Kendall said he continued to encourage his players to stay in the game and told them any issue needed to be communicated by him, their coach, to the referee — not between themselves and the players on the other team.
“It can get a little out of hand. That is where the referee steps in, that is where the coach pulls their player out and says, ‘Look, we don’t play like that.’ As a matter of fact, I had to pull one of my players out because he was ready to fight,” Kendall said. “As a coach, that is part of my job: to protect my players and have the best interest of my players.”
Kendall said play continued to get rougher and his players told him Whittier players began using inappropriate language.
“I’m not sure if anything has been done, as far as Whittier goes,” Kendall said.
The game continued to be aggressive and Whittier won. After shaking hands after the game, some of Kendall’s players said aggressive words were exchanged then, as well.
Kendall said he was later told during the pushing and shoving under the basket that a Whittier player said he was assaulted by a Longfellow player, alleging the opposing player used a finger to penetrate his anus through his shorts.
Kendall didn’t hear about the alleged assault until the next day around 1 p.m.
But he said if he heard about the incident before, he would have gone to the Whittier coach and told them a Longfellow player had inappropriately touched one of the Whittier players, reprimanded his player, then apologized to the player and coach.
“That’s not how we play. We’re not trying to do something like that,” Kendall said. “I’ve seen dirty play as a player, as a coach and as a referee. We’re not doing anything like that.”
Kendall also said he does not believe the incident occurred.
“I don’t see it. Was there a scramble for the ball? Yes, they were diving all over the place, we were diving all over the place. Were there hands touching, pushing? Yes,” Kendall said. “One of my kids got pushed to the floor. One of my kids got slammed in the throat. But we still had to play the game.”
That Friday afternoon, Kendall was working at Whittier Middle School when Deputy Superintendent of Personnel Jason Brown met with Kendall.
Kendall said he already planned to talk with the Whittier coach after work about things his players told him were said during the game.
“But I never got a chance to say that to the coach, because by 1 p.m., I was already dismissed,” Kendall said.
When Kendall was called into the office to meet with Brown, Kendall thought it would be about moving to Longfellow on a full-time basis instead of moving between the two schools.
Brown opened the conversation by asking about the basketball game, then Kendall told Brown about how Longfellow lost the game.
“He said, ‘There has been a complaint on one of your players’,” Kendall said. “I said, ‘I don’t believe so, that couldn’t have happened. We don’t play like that.’”
Kendall then asked who filed the complaint and said he wanted to know where the complaint came from, if there was a written report or video of the game.
Brown then turned over a piece of paper and told Kendall he had two options.
The district would fire Kendall and he wouldn’t find work at another school district or he could resign.
A statement from Norman Public Schools stated that the district could not discuss specific personnel issues due to confidentiality laws.
District officials said when the district is notified of a complaint or allegation about an incident that occurs during school or during a school activity, NPS immediately launches an investigation and NPS officials interview individuals involved and review any available records.
Kendall said he doesn’t know how the district could go through an entire investigation in four hours.
“It was a bombshell,” he said. “What are you trying to do to me? I’m scatterbrained at that point, like, what do I do?”
Brown told Kendall the best thing for him to do was resign and possibly still work outside of Norman Public Schools.
“Depending on the nature of the allegation, employees may be suspended during the investigation if they were involved in the incident. District officials also take into account the individual’s employment history and evaluate any previous issues of misconduct,” the NPS statement reads. “In some cases, employees choose to resign to avoid a full investigation, suspension or the possibility of being terminated by the board of education.”
So Kendall filled out the resignation. Brown took the paper, looked at his watch and left.
Kendall said he believes the entire conversation took about 20 minutes.
“I’m still not thinking. What he means is that he’s not just taking my coaching job, he’s taking my teaching [assistant] job,” Kendall said. “And I’m thinking that I still need employment, I like what I do. Some people think this is just a job, but I look at it as a career. This is what I look forward to every day. When I woke up Friday morning, I went and visited the kids I had last year at Wilson Elementary.”
Kendall took the student he was assisting to his next class, then went to clean out his office at Longfellow. Kendall took care to make sure he got into the building, cleaned out his office and got back out of Longfellow without being seen by any students because he didn’t want any of his students to be upset.