TRCC Responds to 'Open Letter' on Basketball Coach's Reprimand

POPLAR BLUFF, MO - Three Rivers Community College officials have issued a "letter to the patrons" of the college, signed by five members of the school's Board of Trustees, in direct response to what they described as an "ill-informed and inflammatory 'open letter'" that was recently published in several newspapers in southeast Missouri.  According to a statement from TRCC, both men are described as "disgruntled, former TRCC employees.

The "open letter" bemoaned the fact that legendary men's basketball Coach Gene Bess had received a written reprimand because of his treatment of a player who left his team.  The letter alluded to "discussion over the past ten years of the eventual downgrading of the college athletic program to NJCAA Division II competition."  According to the TRCC statement, "We can state unequivocally that there never has been any action or even any consideration by anyone in a position of authority at the college to downgrade the athletic program to Division II.  Three Rivers has a lengthy and proud tradition of excellence and competitiveness, not only within our conference but also throughout Division 1 of NJCAA.  We are proud of Three Rivers' student athletes and their many accomplishments.  We are proud of Coach Bess' success, and accordingly named our basketball court in his honor.  As a matter of record, the men's basketball program, consistently one of the best in the nation, currently is budgeted at nearly $364,000, about $40,000 more than last year."

The TRCC reply also states, "It is unfortunate that a private personnel matter involving what the Board of Trustees deemed inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour by Coach Bess toward a student athlete has been misrepresented and publicized.  Under ordinary circumstances, any discussions or actions between the board or administration and an employee remain confidential.  Because of the nature of this incident, the investigative report on the situation was made a part of the Board of Trustees meeting minutes and therefore is available to the public on request."

What led to the reprimand of Bess?  According to TRCC, "Coach Bess treated a local player, who announced he was leaving the team to accept a full three-year scholarship at a four-year university, rudely.  He apparently lost his temper, berated the young man, banned him from the TRCC gym although the college was still in session, and generally acted in an unprofessional and unacceptable manner.  The young man was devastated and described the incident to his parents.  When reports of the incident began circulating in the college district, our board ordered an administrative investigation into the matter."  After completing the investigation, a written reprimand was given to Bess and he was asked to apologize to the affected parties.  Bess reportedly refused to do so.

The issue at hand is the reprimand, which Bess received "due to a serious lapse in judgement," according to the TRCC board's statement.  "Unfortunately, Coach Bess seems not to be able to accept administrative criticism.  He and a tiny minority of his boosters are attempting to make his reprimand a referendum on the men's basketball program."  The board also states, "We reject the premise that Coach Bess does not have to play by the rules just because he has won more than 1,000 basketball games or because he is a deacon in his church."