LaVonda Johnson

Former Bowling Green girls’ basketball coach LaVonda Johnson calls out to her players during a 2016 win over Glasgow in the Region 4 Girls Basketball Tournament championship game at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Former Bowling Green High School girls’ basketball coaches LaVonda Johnson, Greg Johnson and Jalyn Savage filed a lawsuit Oct. 2 in Warren Circuit Court alleging racial discrimination in the coaches’ departures from the Lady Purples program.

In addition, LaVonda Johnson, who was the head coach at BGHS for a decade, claims she was retaliated against in violation of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act. The lawsuit contends that the Kentucky High School Athletic Association is investigating the BGHS boys’ varsity basketball program for “violation of KHSAA regulations relating to recruiting players on the 2016-17 team.”

BGHS won its first state championship in March, finishing the year 36-2.

According to the lawsuit – which names as defendants the Bowling Green Independent School District board of education and Superintendent Gary Fields in his official capacity – LaVonda Johnson “provided information to the KHSAA regarding the alleged violations.”

Joe Angolia, communications director for the KHSAA, told the Daily News on Wednesday morning that “we can confirm there is a matter under review” regarding the 2016-17 BGHS boys’ basketball team. Angolia declined to comment on how long the KHSAA review has been underway or whether it regards potential recruiting violations, as claimed in the lawsuit.

Fields told the Daily News on Tuesday that neither he, BGHS Principal William King, BGHS Athletic Director Mark Spader nor former BGHS boys’ basketball coach D.G. Sherrill has been contacted by the KHSAA about a review into the boys’ basketball team.

Meanwhile, Fields said in response to Johnson’s lawsuit: “I can’t comment on any pending litigation. Our board attorney won’t have any comment on any pending litigation.”

An initial complaint such as what the coaches filed Oct. 2 represents just one side of a proceeding. The defendants have not yet filed a response to the suit.

Sherrill resigned in June as both the boys’ head coach and the school’s athletic director to take over as the BGISD director of pupil personnel. Former assistant Derrick Clubb was promoted to head coach in July.

LaVonda Johnson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury.

According to a termination memorandum, Johnson was fired as coach Aug. 3 for an alleged pattern of behavior of not treating “student players with dignity and respect” and violating the Professional Code of Ethics for Kentucky Certified School Personnel.

In the lawsuit, Johnson says she met with King on March 31, 2016, and was presented a list of “performance expectations,” including requirements that she replace assistant coaches that include plantiffs Greg Johnson and Savage. LaVonda Johnson claims that during the meeting, King stated he wanted the girls’ basketball program to “reflect the diversity of the school” and when Johnson, an African-American, asked if that meant more white players and white coaches, King responded with “yes.”

King has since refuted Johnson’s description of the meeting, telling the Daily News in August, “no, that is not correct.”

The lawsuit claims that after Greg Johnson and Savage were fired, King hired Anthony Hickey, Houston Bunton and Chloe Elam as assistant coaches. All three are African-American.

Bunton was arrested on Dec. 13, 2016, and subsequently indicted for multiple sex offenses.

According to the lawsuit, Hickey is listed among “other Board employees” as those being investigated by the KHSAA for violations in the BGHS boys’ varsity basketball program.

On Aug. 24, Calvin Head, an African-American, was hired as the new girls’ basketball coach and assistant athletic director after coaching at Russellville for three seasons.

Johnson is still employed as a special education teacher at BGHS and, because she was fired after the deadline for notice of reduction in salary for the 2017-18 school year, she will receive her full coaching stipend for the upcoming season.

Johnson went 254-56 in 10 years at Bowling Green with four Region 4 championships and eight straight District 14 titles.{&end}

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Covering the Western Kentucky University athletics beat for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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