Football players at an Illinois school are supporting their former coach, who was asked to resign last week, by boycotting Tuesday’s season-opening practice.
Thomas Jefferson (Rockford, Ill.) and football coach Ken DuBose parted ways last Wednesday, less than a year after DuBose helped snap the school’s 27-game losing streak and led them to a 4-5 season.
Tuesday morning, Jefferson offensive coordinator Tony Ambrogio was promoted to replace DuBose, but the season-opening practice was canceled in the afternoon after more than half the team sat out in protest.
“We’re tired of getting walked over,” freshman offensive tackle Tanner Smith told the Rockford Register Star Tuesday. “We have to stick up for our coach. He’s been behind us every step, so we have to be behind him.”
Ambrogio, told the Register Star he understood why 22 team members sat outside the school and refused to report to practice.
“I’m not taking that personal at all,” Ambrogio said. “As young men, you’ve got to believe in something. This is one of the things they’ve got to do. That’s fine. We’re going to support them and go from there.”
The protestors included quarterback James Dunner, who threw for a school-record 1,415 yards last year and ran for another 400, per the Register Star.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Dunner said. “They took the coach away from the team. They (the remaining coaches) didn’t know I was going to sit out, but I’m with the players.”
“They haven’t even told us a reason why they dropped him,” wide receiver Arkise Sturdivant said. “I’m just supporting the team decision not to practice for today — and maybe some more days.”
According to last week’s Rockford Register Star story, DuBose believes his forced resignation was based on what he referred to as his “inability to follow procedural ways at Jefferson.”
Among the things for which DuBose said he was criticized were social media posts, the J-Hawks’ branding of themselves as “the bird gang,” his driving some players to practice, and his interaction with officials and the crowd after a basketball tournament game.
“They didn’t want me to be here, and I’m still trying to figure out why,” DuBose told the Register Star last week. “The new athletic director (Michael Armato) felt I wasn’t doing things the way he wanted me to. This has nothing to do with anything except the new AD didn’t want me here. I had a couple of conflicts with him as soon as he got here.”
Last week, Rockford Public Schools director of athletics and program development Mat Parker and Jefferson principal Don Rundall released a statement on DuBose’s dismissal.
“An ongoing matter involving Jefferson High School Head Football Coach Ken DuBose was brought to our attention. DuBose’s employment with RPS 205 has been terminated, pending Rockford School Board approval. This is a personnel matter, and we’re unable to provide further comment. Coaching plans are pending for the upcoming Jefferson J-Hawks football season,” the statement read.
While members of the team took the fight to Tuesday night’s school board meeting, DuBose was not reinstated.
He texted a statement to the Register Star Tuesday night.
“I first and foremost would like to say that I am grateful for the support of not only the student/athletes and parents, but also from the community,” DuBose wrote. “I am honored to have been able to build good, positive relationships with many in the Rockford area. I am truly disappointed that I will not be re-instated as head coach at Jefferson High School, yet I am optimistic and excited for what my future holds.
“I can only hope that what I have tried to teach the team about football, as well as life lessons, will stay with them and help with their success in life and make them good men. I encourage them to perform at their best, not only in the upcoming season, but throughout life, and to continue their education beyond high school.
“It has been my pleasure to be your coach, and I look forward to what the future holds for each of you. Stay strong, stay educated, stay committed!. BirdGang will ALWAYS be my family!”
DuBose was 4-14 in his two seasons as head coach.