By JASON KING
Benched seniors and belligerent parents compounded the difficulties for Jacksonville as Mountain Home beat the Lady Red Devils 3-0 on Thursday at the Devils Den.
Jacksonville coach Melissa Reeves benched all three starting seniors during the first game-and-a-half for breaking undisclosed team rules, which drew the ire of the players’ mothers.
The parents could be heard heckling from the stands during the match, and some went so far as to trespass into the locker room afterward.
The visiting Lady Bombers took advantage of the discord to claim a clear victory in the 6A-East Conference matchup, 25-12, 25-9, 25-11.
“We lose control of their kids when they act like that,” Reeves said of the parents. “We have had control all season long until one of them didn’t get their way, and then they got mad. And then one bleeds into the other, into the other. And that’s what’s happened in girls’ athletics here at Jacksonville for a very long time, and it needs to stop.
“It’s going to stop this year, because it’s just not acceptable. I wouldn’t go to their job and do that to them, nor would they allow me to.”
Reeves, visibly upset over the situation, declined to reveal the names of the players or their specific infractions.
Tuesday’s loss at Marion was the start of the breakdown.
The Lady Patriots dominated the first two games, winning 25-7 and 25-8. Reeves substituted for the final game to give underclassmen experience against a competitive team.
“Up until then, everybody loved me,” Reeves said. “But because I made a coaching decision to give the rest of my team some experience, they had an issue.”
The distraction comes at a time when the Lady Devils are fighting for their playoff lives.
They will wrap up their 6A-East schedule Monday at West Memphis, where a victory would put them a game ahead of Little Rock Parkview for the sixth and final tournament seed. A loss would send the Lady Devils and Lady Patriots into a tiebreaker situation as the teams split their two conference matches.
“I know these are their kids — I have kids,” Reeves said of the girls’ parents. “I love these kids. We as a coaching staff have worked our butts off for these kids, and I only want the best for them.
“I’m more competitive than anybody in this room or on that floor. I want to win. But I’m not going to win at the cost of losing other kids and teaching them life lessons — I’m not going to do it.”
Junior Haley Hickingbotham led the Lady Red Devils at the net with seven blocks, while junior libero Taylor Ruple had 24 digs.
“I think we executed in spurts,” Reeves said. “I was proud of the kids who were played. It’s a time of the season where you expect a little better play, but everybody has an off night. I believe we had an off night.
“I totally take responsibility. I made a coaching decision, and I stood by it. We’re going to West Memphis on Monday and make up a game that we’ve got, and hopefully that will have a better outcome.”
Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said on Friday he had met with the coaching staff and parents and had addressed the situation.
“When you’re talking about communication, how’s someone going to know where you stand on something if you’re not communicating with them?” Wilson said. “Coaches are human, kids are human, and basically, it comes down to a matter of communication. And you know how to handle miscommunication problems? You communicate.
“The situation has been handled, and it honestly amounted to nothing more than a bump in the road.”