Mary Persons has banned a parent from being the PA announcer at baseball games because he posted criticisms of superintendent Mike Hickman on Facebook.
Chris Soule has been the Bulldogs’ volunteer public address announcer for the past three years and was planning to start a new season behind the microphone in MP’s home opener on Monday. His son Xavier graduated last year and now plays baseball for Piedmont College in Demorest.
But MP baseball coach Clae Mathis told Soule on Friday, Feb. 12 that the administration told him that Soule could not return to the job. Soule said he was told that his posts on Facebook this summer criticizing Hickman speaking at a Black Lives Matter protest against the Monroe County Reporter and owner Will Davis was the reason he was banned.
Soule seemed to have fun with the PA job. Two years ago, an umpire threw him out of a post-season game for playing the song “Three Blind Mice.” MP baseball parents told the Reporter on Monday they want Soule to keep the job. They asked to speak anonymously for fear of reprisals. Because he had fun with it, Soule said he wasn’t totally surprised to lose the volunteer job, but he said he was surprised at the reason given.
“This kind of thing could make people scared to speak out,” said Soule. “You’re starting to live in an age of ‘follow our way of thinking or else’. We just take free speech and throw it out the door.”
Soule said he was critical of the superintendent for participating in the protest against the Reporter last June, and the school system’s decision to stop or limit face-to-face learning several times this school year. Soule still has a junior at Mary Persons. But he said he didn’t think he had to give up his First Amendment right to express his opinions when he volunteered to help the baseball program.
The Reporter asked MP principal Jim Finch if he barred Soule from being the PA announcer. Finch first pointed questions to athletic director Robert Lindsey.
“I don’t know the guy [Soule],” said Finch. “I ain’t gonna talk to you about that, Will.”
Asked point blank if he was the one to decide that Soule wasn’t welcome back, Finch said “no comment.”
Asked if parents should be afraid to express opinions on social media because the school could bar them from participating in their children’s activities, Finch replied, “they might should be. I don’t know.”
School board member Eva Bilderback said barring volunteers for their political opinions is not OK.
“I think the whole country needs a class in the First Amendment,” said Bilderback. “Everybody’s not going to agree with us. Are we gonna do something to every parent that doesn’t agree with us? It sends a bad message to potential volunteers.”
Bilderback noted that a teacher, Amanda Turner, was encouraging people this summer to come to a board meeting and put Bilderback in her place yet administrators didn’t do a thing. But volunteers who voice an opposing opinion are banned.
“If they disagree with you,” said Bilderback, “you don’t have any rights. That’s a Marxist.”
Bilderback said on the current school board, conservatives only have three votes. But she said that will likely change next year and then they’ll be able to address things like this.