A day after South Fort Myers High football coach and security guard Anthony Dixon was fired by the Lee County School District, a wave of support rolled through the school.
On Twitter, the hashtag #DixonisSouth began to circulate late Tuesday night. The next day, a petition on Change.org was created by the username “Dixon Supporters” and had over 800 signatures by late Wednesday night.
Dixon, 39, had worked within the school district for 18 years and at South Fort Myers for the past 11 years before his removal on Tuesday following an investigation into an incident involving sex between a number of male students and a girl inside a school restroom on May 17.
The sexual encounter was videotaped and shared on social media. A hallway camera at the school captured 25 students entering the restroom during time of the incident, but school officials say not all participated in a sex act. Sixteen male students were disciplined, including five receiving suspensions.
The details of that investigation cannot be made public until Aug. 26 pursuit to District policy. Dixon retained employment lawyer Ben Yormak, who was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. Dixon is entitled to an appeal process through school board policy and the collective bargaining agreement.
Dixon spent 10 years as a Wolfpack assistant before being hired last June as head coach following the resignation of Grant Redhead and finished his only season with an 8-3 record.
When the school district was asked in May whether South Fort Myers football coaches were under professional standards inquiries and whether contracts would be renewed for the next calendar school year, former Lee County School District spokesperson Amity Chandler responded in an email: “While (former South Fort Myers principal) Ms. (Melissa) Layner will naturally be looking at what could be or could have been done differently I do not understand the implication of teachers. I also don’t understand the correlation or implication with Coach Dixon – other than to say that these are all non-issues.”
Matthew Holderfield, who was promoted from assistant to interim head coach Tuesday, said the team was working through a difficult period. He will guide the Wolfpack in its preseason home game Friday against Largo
“It was definitely a shock to some of the players but we have to move forward,” he said. We only have one last practice in pads to get ready for Friday night.”
Robert Giles, an Exceptional Student Education teacher at South Fort Myers who had previously coached with Dixon before becoming the schools’ bowling coach, said he was blindsided by the dismissal.
“It’s devastating,” Giles said as he worked through tears. “All the stuff going around with the Dunbar community. All the violence we’ve had. You have a guy who still lives in the Dunbar community and is probably one of the best role models for these young black men that I’ve seen in my years of coaching.
“I’ve witnessed him taking four or five kids home at a time,” Giles continued. “They’re doing these kids a bunch of harm. The kids who really need a good role model. And they threw it away.”
One student wrote early Wednesday that T-shirts were being sold inside South Fort Myers art teacher’s Jeanne Dozier’s classroom for $5. Dozier is the daughter of school board member Jeanne S. Dozier.
Dozier said she was unaware that shirts were being sold in her room.
“This was not my thing,” she said. “I don’t know why my name is on it. It wasn’t me.”
South Fort Myers principal Ed Matthews could not be reached by comment early Wednesday.
Dozier said she could not comment on the Dixon case, but added that teachers support him. “We love Dixon,” she said.
Wolfpack assistant football coach Nathan O’Jibway was also removed from his coaching position on Tuesday but remains a teacher.
Holderfield, a graduate of Jacksonville State University, is an Alabama native with 19 years of high school football coaching experience. The social studies teacher joined the Wolfpack in 2012 and says the program will need to continue to grow from this.
“Our guys have stepped up tremendously,” he said. “Everybody on the staff. Everybody in the administration. All the teachers. All the players. Everybody stepped up in the last 24 hours. That’s what we’ll have to continue to do.”
Naples Daily News reporter J. Scott Butherus contributed to this report.