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Riverhills releases AD, loses basketball coach

The school that once turned Nick Stansberry's life around has turned away from him.

Stansberry, who credits Riverhills Christian with helping him escape a troubled past _ and who thought so much of the school that he paid his younger brother's tuition for two years _ learned last week he would not be brought back as athletic director.

The Church and Pastor's Council, which has final authority over all ministries of the church, including the school, chose not to renew his contract for a fifth year.

In response to the council's decision, Jan Bennett, whom Stansberry hired two months ago as boys basketball coach, resigned.

"There was some disagreement between the council and (Stansberry)," said principal Warren Baucom, who would not elaborate.

Pastor Mark Williams, who oversees the council, could not be reached for comment.

Stansberry, 22, said his contract was not renewed because the athletic department came in $7,000 over budget last year. The school set aside about $35,000 for 12 sports and spent about $42,000, Stansberry said.

Riverhills lacks athletic facilities, Stansberry said, which led him to rent space. The arrangement cost potential revenue from admissions and concessions.

Additionally, the school started seven new teams last year and dropped baseball after just one game _ losing more expected revenue.

"I'm still trying to figure this out," he said. "By no means am I saying this was my greatest year as an AD, but the terms of my contract not being renewed were not really specified."

The council's decision hurt Stansberry, who said he would not have graduated from high school if not for the guidance he received at Riverhills.

He said he had a "terrible" grade point average and ran with the wrong crowd in middle school before a baseball teammate talked him into attending Riverhills. His mother, Marian, worked two jobs to pay the tuition.

"It was the first time in my life anybody outside of my parents expressed an interest in me," Stansberry said.

"Teachers who didn't know what I could do on a baseball field expressed an interest in my personal and spiritual life."

In 1997, Stansberry spent much of his senior year working in the athletic office. At the end of the year, he was asked to become an assistant to the athletic director.

When the athletic director did not return and a replacement could not be found, the 18-year-old Stansberry became the county's youngest athletic director.

At the time, Stansberry said the school paid him $1,500 to oversee four sports. Any major decisions were made by the principal.

Stansberry said he made $12,700 last year as athletic director and elementary physical education teacher.

In addition to his athletics duties, Stansberry _ who played baseball, soccer, basketball and golf in high school _ had to coach any sport for which he couldn't find a coach. (He said budgetary concerns prevented him from paying a coach more than $500.).

At times, he served as baseball, girls basketball and volleyball coach.

When his mother could no longer afford to pay his younger brother Jeremy's tuition, Stansberry paid for the final two years, a cost of approximately $6,500.

During his tenure, Riverhills' athletic program grew from four to 12 sports (including elementary and middle school teams).

Football was introduced in 1999, and it will begin district play this season.

"Since I have been here, he has been a hard worker," Baucom said. "He put in a lot of time and has done an excellent job with his scheduling and attracting people to work with the athletic program as coaches and so forth. He has been an asset to the school."

Stansberry hired Bennett to coach the boys basketball team in early June. A week later, he learned the Church and Pastor's Council had decided not to renew his contract, which is reviewed on an annual basis.

Stansberry said he will miss the relationships he built with students most.

"There are still feelings there because I promised their parents they would get a good experience," Stansberry said. "Those kids are still there or planning to return, and I feel, "How do I still honor that commitment to the parents?' "

The school wants to replace Stansberry by next week. Baucom will interview candidates, and the council will decide whom to hire. After an athletic director is in place, the school will hire a boys basketball coach.

Bennett, 65, went 563-334 in a 30-plus-year career that included stops at Tampa Bay Tech, Brandon and Robinson. In addition, he led Seminole Presbyterian to the final four in 2000.

"(Stansberry) called me and said they had not renewed his contract," Bennett said. "I said, "If they are not renewing your contract, then I'm resigning.' "

Baucom said, "Obviously, we were disappointed because it means possibly that the program could suffer. We're willing to find somebody who'd be able to step in and make the program go forward, but you obviously are going to have trouble finding somebody of the same caliber who'd be willing to come into our situation.

"I think we're going to go forward with our athletic program. I'm committed to a quality program, and we want to build and continue to improve it."

Stansberry isn't ready to give up on the school.

He plans to enroll at South Florida and work toward a degree in special education. In time, he hopes to return to Riverhills, where his mother works as a cook and his brother, Josh, is a custodian.

"My vision for Riverhills is that I'm going to be the person who leads them to greatness," Stansberry said.

"I didn't develop that vision on my own. God put that in me. This is just a little hurdle to try to sway me from that vision. I don't think there's anything that's going to prevent me from returning to Riverhills."

INTRODUCING:

RIVERHILLS CHRISTIAN

WHAT: A private school with an expected enrollment this fall of 110 to 120 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including 35 to 40 in grades 9-12.

WHERE: 6310 Sligh Ave. E.

ATHLETICS: The school works with home-based school associations to fill out its varsity athletic programs, which include football, girls and boys basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and track. Approximately half of the 30 players on last year's football team were home-schooled.

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