Epps leaving Laurence Manning after boys basketball contract not renewed

24-year coach says board told him, to 'play with our own'


Laurence Manning will have new basketball coaches for both their boys' and girls' teams next season, as Will Epps is stepping away from both programs.
Epps, who led the Swampcats to a SCISA state title in 2012, was offered a contract to coach the varsity girls basketball team but did not receive a contract to return to the boys team. He said he was told by members of the board that he did not receive a contract for the boys team because multiple seniors did not attend the program’s banquet. A board meeting was held June 10 to make the contract decisions official.
He said he was then told that some returning players did not want to play for him, but when Epps pressed on that point, he said he was not given the names of any students who did not want to return. Epps said he spoke to parents of returning players, informing them of his decision, and said they were all surprised and disappointed. The next point, he said, is what stuck with Epps the most and ultimately led to his decision to not return.
“I’ve been here for 24 years. I went to school here 12 years. I absolutely love Laurence Manning Academy. My mom worked here for 25 years. I have two siblings that all graduated from here, and we all scored 1,000 points in basketball. It’s my home,” the seven-time region coach of the year said. “They told me they wanted to play with our own. I don’t know what that means to you, but coming from an all-white board, I know what that means to me. And that’s the reason I won’t be returning.”
Epps emphasized that final point to The Sumter Item.
"It's no secret through the years that numerous student-athletes have chosen to transfer in due to the success of the program. Many of these players reflect diversity within the school and are players of color. In fact, the men's basketball team had greater diversity than any other team, and over 54.5% were non-Caucasian," he said. "After questioning three members of the board, I realized it wasn't as much about me as it was about 'playing with our own.'"
Epps told The Sumter Item part of the frustration was that he was not given an opportunity to speak with the board, especially because he was asked to return and coach the girls.
“Why all of a sudden am I not qualified or good enough to coach the boys when we’ve won 315 games in the past 19 years, which is a high rate of success?” Epps said after closing his time at LMA with a record of 315-163. “At no point did I get a chance to say, ‘This is why I think this happened.’ I should speak my truth leaving after 24 years and don’t get as much as an exit interview or an interview before they voted to terminate me as boys coach.”
Epps said he wanted to stay to coach the girls, asking for control over the program as a whole, including coaching both varsity and junior varsity. He said he was told the incoming athletic director, Robbie Briggs, would oversee the program as a whole.
"I was excited about building this girls program, the same way I built the boys program, coaching both varsity and JV for years and years," Epps said. "I was very disappointed that they weren't interested in building a program and was more interested in playing with their own. Playing with our own goes against what I know is morally and ethically right, and, because of that, I'm leaving the place that I love.

“I want to be clear that in no way do I believe that LMA is a racist or hateful place. The school is filled with wonderful students, families and alumni. I do believe that a portion of the board of trustees, a group that has immense power, is making decisions that reflect very poorly on the Laurence Manning family.”

The Sumter Item contacted Laurence Manning school board chairman Cag Brunson for comment, but he was not immediately available.

Head of School Tripp Boykin released the following response on Wednesday evening.

"The mission of Laurence Manning Academy is to provide students with a high-quality education within a safe, morally rich, and Christ-centered environment that encourages students to strive for personal excellence as they learn, lead, serve, and worship," the statement read. "Laurence Manning Academy admits students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, athletics, and other school administered programs.

"We would like to express our appreciation to Coach Epps for the many years of service to
Laurence Manning Academy, and wish him the best in the future.

"Any inquiry regarding this matter may be directed to Head of School, Mr. Tripp Boykin."