Sherice Ajifu says there was no choice. The Mid-Pacific girls basketball coach, who led the Owls to the Division II state championship last season, resigned on Sunday after several days of crisis within the program. It came down, she said, to “core values.”
“I don’t want to put anybody on a hot seat, but I’ll say this: we decided to resign due to a lack of administrative support,” Ajifu said Thursday night. “It has nothing to do with a kid. It’s about (lack of) administrative support.”
According to sources, the problem began with disciplinary action of reduced playing time for one of the players who didn’t show up for practice. That led to normal disciplinary action — reduced playing time. However, the player then quit the team, then changed her mind and asked to return.
Ajifu required the player to apologize to the team, and that’s when the player balked. When school administration got involved, Ajifu and her staff didn’t get the support they expected.
“Some things transpired over the weekend, a shift in the administration’s stance, and we just didn’t agree with it. We weren’t allowed to build our program according to our core values,” Ajifu said. “As coaches, we’re educators, so we need to teach the kids that we have to take a stand. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for the girls.”
However, the player’s father says that it was miscommunication. In a phone call late Thursday night, he rolled out the day-by-day details from his perspective. After an MPI game last Friday night (Dec. 8), he said that his daughter tried to text Ajifu about a family emergency. (Note: because he had an unavoidable obligation that weekend, the only one available to help his wife with a serious problem at their rental property was their daughter.)
“My wife needed help, so (my daughter) had to go. She texted her coach at 9:30 p.m. Friday that she couldn’t practice on Saturday,” he said.
There was no response, the father said, until an assistant coach “reached out (on Saturday) and asked if everything is OK.”
By Monday, Mid-Pacific played Maryknoll and the player was benched in the first half.
“She said Coach Sherice told her that she didn’t get the text,” he said.
The player sat most of the third quarter before entering the game. After the game, her father pulled her before the usual post-game team meeting. He regrets that.
“I felt I needed to console my daughter. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. That was a dad move. I apologized later (at a meeting with coaches and administrators) for that,” he said.
By Tuesday, that decision by the player’s father proved to be a breaking point.
“(My daughter’s) phone is blowing up. Coach Sherice is telling the team that (my daughter) quit the team. Coach Sherice told the AD that by (my daughter) walking out of the (post-game meeting), that was quitting,” he said.
The player’s father added that he and his daughter had never had an issue with the coach before. He adds that he never complained to administrators.
Was this all about the definition of a family emergency? Technological glitches? A dead phone battery, perhaps? Simple human error? All of the above?
Calls to MPI athletic director Scott Wagner were not returned earlier in the week. Wagner issued a statement to the newspaper on Wednesday saying Ajifu had resigned. “We are grateful for her years of service to the school, and her efforts in bringing the team to its state championship win last season,” Wagner said. “The team is currently moving forward in anticipation of another great season of girls basketball at Mid-Pacific.”
Lisa Russell, a faculty member at Mid-Pacific, is currently serving as interim head coach.
Ajifu is a former MPI basketball player. At the players’ request, Ajifu and her staff attended the Owls’ game on Thursday night against ‘Iolani, a 77-50 loss. It was emotional. She shed some tears through the night, and all in all, it seemed Ajifu and her staff are at a distance, but haven’t completely let go yet.
“We’re not as a staff innocent in this. We played a role in the process. I’ll take accountability for the choices we made,” she said.
After resigning, Ajifu said she talked with the school president.
“I’m not sure who the final (administrative) decision rested with. There was an effort to task us to reconsider our stance,” she said. “But there were things that both parties were unwilling to compromise on, so we had to move on. Fundamentally, there are things that went against what I believe and what we believe as a program.”
Last year, in Ajifu’s first season at the helm, she led the Owls to the Division II title. The team moved back to D-I in the ILH this season and was ranked at 10th in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10.
Ajifu called it a hectic week. She said her now former players asked her and the staff to be at their game on Thursday night, a loss to ‘Iolani. Her voice was raspy after a night of mixed emotions and many tears. It’s far too early to speculate about the future.
“Right now, you know coaching takes up so much time and energy. It’s a huge commitment. The way things are in this world today, I think I’m hanging up my hat,” said Ajifu, 31. “I don’t see coaching in my future.”
It might be easier to stay away, but she doesn’t know if that will happen.
“As long as the girls want us at the games,” Ajifu said, “we’ll be there.”
This story has been updated to reflect the player’s father’s perspective. His name is not identified by request.