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Citing 'toxic environment,' M-S girls' basketball coaches step down before game

News-Gazette - 2/8/2024

Feb. 8—Submit a Letter to the Editor here

MAHOMET — Approximately an hour before the Mahomet-Seymour girls' basketball team bus left for Mt. Zion on Wednesday afternoon, the Bulldogs were without a coach.

Not just a head coach. Any coach.

Jessica Hurless, the Bulldogs' interim head coach for the last three weeks after Tom Garriott stepped down for unspecified reasons, and the rest of the team's coaching staff resigned Wednesday afternoon, according to Hurless.

"We were just in a toxic environment that was no longer something we could be a part of," Hurless told The News-Gazette.

Messages left with M-S athletic director Matt Hensley on Wednesday night were not immediately returned.

M-S Principal Chad Benedict, who coached the M-S boys' team from 2006-2018, ultimately filled in as coach for the varsity girls Wednesday night, while Middletown Prairie Elementary Principal Ryan Martin handled the JV.

After the game, Benedict respectfully declined to comment on the situation.

Hurless did not offer more specifics about why she and other staff resigned — or what lies ahead for the team less than a week before Class 3A postseason play tips off. The Bulldogs play Danville in Tuesday's regional semifinal.

She did comment briefly on her transition from volunteer assistant to interim head coach on Jan. 18.

"My expectations were just to get the girls through the rest of the season," Hurless said.

"I didn't want the season to end just because of the previous situation. I was just asked to step in, so I did."

The Bulldogs are set to host Rantoul on Thursday night to conclude the regular season. M-S is 11-18 this season, two years removed from a 3A sectional title that was the first in program history.

Garret Risley, who coached the Bulldogs for three seasons and led them to the Elite Eight in 2022, resigned last March. Garriott, a longtime area basketball coach who had previously coached the St. Thomas More girls' basketball program and Prairie Central girls' basketball program, along with the Olympia boys' basketball program, was hired in late April to replace Risley.

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