Last fall, Socorro High School enjoyed one of its greatest football seasons. The Warriors and coach Damien Ocampo got all the way to the Class 3A state championship game, where they lost at home to Hope Christian.
Now fast forward to earlier this week.
Ocampo was fired.
That’s what he said.
“I had never been fired before,” he said Tuesday.
In fact, all of the coaches at the high school could be forgiven for believing they had been fired. All at the same time.
“I can see why they felt that,” Socorro Consolidated Schools Superintendent Ron Hendrix said Thursday.
But were any of them technically fired? That depends on who is doing the talking.
At Monday’s Socorro school board meeting, Hendrix said he suggested that all of the Warriors’ varsity coaches reapply for their positions, which is usually the polite way of telling a coach they had been let go.
But Hendrix said Thursday it was simply part of a larger, written initiative at Socorro to build character, integrity and sportsmanship within the school’s athletic programs. He wanted the coaches to sign off on this program’s mission statement before they’d get a new coaching contract.
“I felt like this was a good opportunity to start with a clean slate,” Hendrix said in a telephone interview Thursday.
The confused coaches construed Monday’s development as their being dismissed.
“I think many coaches interpreted it as being fired, because you don’t have your job anymore,” Socorro wrestling coach Joel Partridge said.
And in fact, this Monday’s board meeting has created what Ocampo described as a “fire storm” in the central New Mexico city. All of Socorro’s varsity head coaches have had to endure an upsetting week as they’ve wondered if they still had a job.
“I’ve never seen this in any district before at any level,” Ocampo said.
Hendrix told the Journal that coaches do still have their jobs as the district scrambled to explain what had happened. He said it was a combination of a reversal of position, plus some misunderstanding.
“I told Alex (Johnson, Socorro’s athletic director) that we’re not going to do the rehire thing,” Hendrix said. “If they were offered a letter of intent, we’ll honor that this year. … There’s a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of ugly stuff.”
The blowback from Monday’s board meeting was considerable. Several dozen people protested outside the school district headquarters on Wednesday morning, voicing their opposition to the district’s handling of the situation.
Hendrix posted a Facebook message on Wednesday just prior to the start of that protest, directed at the coaches and the community. The key excerpts from Hendrix’s message:
“I was the person who made the suggestion to have every coach reapply for their positions under the character curriculum … I didn’t think that decision through. I want to apologize to the coaches and their student-athletes. … I know that my decision was hurtful to these coaches and I’m sorry I made them feel unappreciated. That decision was rescinded (Tuesday) … ”
Hendrix again apologized Thursday.
“All I can do is say I’m sorry,” he said. “If they want to accept it, they can. If not, I feel like I’ve done the best I can to help the relationship. … It was a bad decision I made. I really wish I had thought about it a little longer.”
Ocampo believes this was a plan for Socorro to keep only the coaches it wanted to keep. But he did admit that Hendrix told him that “he realizes it was the wrong plan now, and apologizes.”
Ocampo said Tuesday he would not reapply if they asked him to. On Thursday, he said he was undecided as to whether or not he’d return to coach the Warriors.
“At this point,” Ocampo said, “I’m questioning quite a bit.”