Church of the Highlands was everything Scott Phillips had hoped it would be.
It was the place where Phillips and his family (wife and two kids) were growing spiritually.
Unfortunately for him, the new found destination of worship came with a price — his job at East Memorial.
After helping end the school’s long football playoff drought and capturing an AISA boys state Class AA championship, Phillips found himself surprisingly standing out in the cold at the conclusion of the 2012-13 academic year due to a policy that brought on his reluctant resignation.
In June 2012, Phillips agreed to accept the athletic director position following the resignation of then-athletic director Vic Foxworth. He taught science and Bible, coached boys basketball and served as a football assistant prior to taking on his new role.
Phillips says that EMCA officials told him that the AD position must be a member of East Memorial Baptist Church — a claim the school’s headmaster Bryan Easley confirmed to the Advertiser in an email.
“I was 30 seconds from turning the job down because of the church issue,” Phillips said. “They wanted me to transition from the Church of the Highlands to East Memorial. I never really liked that, so I went back in my administrator’s office and told them I was willing to give this a try, but I don’t know how this will work out?
“That was the last thing said.”
For close to an entire year, Phillips says his family would attend Sunday services at East Memorial Baptist and Church of the Highlands.
“We would go to the 9 a.m. service at East Memorial, then head over to Montgomery for the 11 a.m. service at Church of the Highlands,” he said. “It was just not working at all.”
It was during an April service at Church of the Highlands where Phillips says a “spiritual calling” forced him to address school officials regarding his objection of attending East Memorial Baptist any longer.
“I knew what was about to take place,” he recalled. “I knew they wanted the athletic director to be an advocate of the church, but it was never in my contract, and it was never talked about again — never.”
Phillips met with an EMCA official for a heart-to-heart discussion behind his reasoning for not wanting to be a member of their church. During that meeting the former AD said he expressed that the decision was merely “spiritual,” and it had absolutely nothing to do with “church vs. church.”
“In a nutshell, I told them I miss my old church,” Phillips recalls. “I went in to share my heart to a pastor. Knowing what might happen, but kind of saying, ‘Maybe we can work something out?’ I knew that wasn’t going to be the end of it because it was going to be a process. It wasn’t received well.”
According to EMCA policy, which Phillips says isn’t documented anywhere, the administrator, assistant administrator, athletic director and daycare director positions all have to be members of its church.
Phillips claims he never seen that terminology in writing.
The Advertiser asked Easley why isn’t that “requirement” incorporated in contracts?
Easley responded via email: “Terms of a contract/hiring or job expectations are confidential information that cannot be discussed in detail.”
Phillips says he didn’t hear back from school officials regarding status of the AD position until late June, when the two parties met twice. It was during the second meeting that Phillips reluctantly resigned after learning leadership would not cave on their policy.
“Their thing was they wanted the school and church to be connected, and I get that,” Phillips said. “But I was really never spiritually connected at East Memorial (the church) in that year, my heart just wasn’t there. And not that they were doing anything bad because I wouldn’t tell anyone not to go there — I wouldn’t.
“But for me and my family, the best place was not there. …If I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, I don’t think it mattered where I was sitting on Sundays.”
Hopeful to at least keep his basketball coaching duties, Phillips says he presented every possible scenario to EMCA, including being demoted, but to no avail. He felt the historic success obtained during the 2012-13 athletic campaign should’ve provided enough proof to remain on staff.
Easley wrote in an email that there were no vacant coaching positions following Phillips’ AD resignation, something he claimed that was discussed between the two.
EMCA hired Brad Porter — a church member — as athletic director in early July.
“For several months, we discussed with coach Phillips the requirements of his position at EMCA and after months of discussion and prayer, coach Phillips resigned his duties here,” Easley wrote in an email. “It was made very clear when we hired Phillips that the AD position is required to be a faithful member of our sponsoring church East Memorial Baptist Church.”
Hindsight is always 20/20.
“If it had have been in my contract, I possibly would have not taken the job,” Phillips said. “I was totally committed to East Memorial (the school). I thought I did enough to prove I didn’t have to be a member to do my job effectively. I didn’t bad mouth the school or turn anyone away from it.
“I was an advocate of East Memorial as the athletic director. That’s what I thought my role was.”