Longtime coach Denny Huston is working with the Camas boys basketball program as a volunteer assistant, serving as a mentor to head coach Skyler Gillispie.
“They want me to be around Skyler and try to help him as to the best way of teaching and managing kids,” Huston said.
Huston was asked by Josh Gibson, Camas’ athletic director, to aid in Gillispie’s growth as a coach in the wake of a Camas School District investigation into Gillispie’s behavior.
Seventeen parents listed their names to a complaint in February, claiming, among other things, the coach used intimidation tactics and verbally abused athletes.
Mike Nerland, the district’s superintendent, wrote a letter to the parents in April explaining the district’s position. The district’s investigation concluded that at times Gillispie’s actions were “inappropriate” and the district acted promptly once learning of the coach’s “misjudgment and unprofessional” behavior.
However, Nerland added, there was no evidence that athletes were ever put at risk, and it is the district’s recommendation that Gillispie remain as the head coach while the school supports efforts to ensure the coach’s behavior improves. The school board will make the final decision regarding Gillispie’s winter sports coaching contract in the fall.
A key to the Camas plan is Huston. A 1959 Camas graduate, Huston spent more than 30 years as a college basketball player and coach, leading programs such as Wyoming and Weber State and assisting at Stanford. He also worked as Clark College’s athletic director.
Now he is back at Camas, at the age of 72, trying to help a young coach find his way.
“I wouldn’t be around him if I didn’t think the guy would work to correct his problems,” Huston said.
While attending a game last year, Huston said he saw one outburst from the coach.
“It was not good,” Huston said.
He has not seen any of that behavior since beginning his work with the team at the end of May for summer practices and games.
Huston said his best advice to Gillispie has been to reinforce the behavior he wants from his players, not to stress the negative. Players are more receptive to coaching from a positive coach.
“I have seen that change already,” Huston said. “The kids are buying into what he is doing.”
Gillispie said he agreed with the district’s findings and understands the seriousness of the complaint.
Hired just days prior to the 2011-12 season at the age of 22, Gillispie has gone 12-29 in his two seasons with the Papermakers. He said he knows he has a lot to learn and he remains passionate about coaching at Camas.
“Upon reflection, I am aware that some of my actions (went) against my goal of building kids, and I am committed to ensuring they do not take place again,” Gillispie said.
“My focus is on creating a positive atmosphere and using Coach Huston as a mentor in the process,” he said.
After the investigation, Gillispie wrote separate letters to the parents and to Gibson.
“I can see that at times I had lost perspective on who I was coaching and the impression and impact a coach has on his team,” Gillispie’s letter to the parents read. “I can see now that I did not prioritize affirmation of the boys during the season.
“The challenge of rebuilding the atmosphere and trust of the players will be difficult and not a quick fix but it can be done and I am willing to put in the necessary effort to grow as a coach and as a positive example for your young men.”
To Gibson, Gillispie wrote: “Moving forward, it is going to take continuous effort on my behalf to make sure that all players have the experience they deserve in our program.”