Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Why is there a stadium named after Rick Holliday? What would changing it look like? [Free read]

Laney High School was the target of a 'hoax' threat that circulated on social media. (Port City Daily photo / File)
Former Deputy Dr. Rick Holliday taught, coached, and was the principal at Laney High School for 17 years. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — A petition created this week is asking the New Hanover County Board of Education to take the name of former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday off the Laney High School football stadium.

The petition, which has gathered thousands of signatures, does not mince words — it accuses Holliday of failing to report the sexual misconduct of former teacher Michael Earl Kelly, currently serving 16-31 years in prison for sexually abusing students. Filed by a former Laney student who counts some of Kelly’s victims as friends, the petition calls Holliday’s name on the stadium a ‘slap in the face.’

Holliday has routinely declined to answer questions from the media and has since before he abruptly retired shortly after an investigation into the administration by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was announced. However, in court filings, Holliday has denied any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, the public perception of Holliday has certainly soured, and as calls for his name to be pulled down off the Buccaneers’ field circulate online, it’s worth asking: how — and why — did the stadium get named for Holliday in the first place? And what would changing it look like?

‘Holliday stadium’ wouldn’t be allowed under current policy

In the fall of 2005, the football stadium at Laney High School was named after Holliday — something that would not be allowed under current school policy, which requires one year between the end of a person’s employment and the filing of a draft proposal for a facility renaming. Even before the policy was changed, naming any facility after a current employee was rare.

The policy has been revised three times since then. New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) officials could not identify specifically when the one-year requirement was added, or who added it. However, it appears the policy change was either in 2014 or 2019.

NHCS officials identified two other facilities with living namesakes: Boles Gymnasium and Braswell Stadium, both at Hoggard High School. The gymnasium was named in 2017 for Sheila Boles, almost a decade after her retirement; Boles was the first woman in North Carolina to coach varsity boy’s basketball and New Hanover County’s first female athletic director. The stadium was named for Scott Braswell in 2013, the successful coach of the Vikings football team — Braswell is the only other employee who had a facility named for them while they were still working for NHCS.

The Laney stadium was named after Holliday shortly after he moved to a central administration position as executive director of instructional services. Prior to that, Holliday was a teacher, coach, and ultimately principal at Laney for a total of 17 years — with stints at the former Lakeside High School and Williston Middle School — from 1982 to 2004.

Neither board members or NHCS officials responded to questions about what criteria was used in evaluating the naming of the stadium in Holliday’s honor.

In the fall of 2005, the members of the board were Chairman Don Hayes, vice-chair (and current member) Jeannette Nichols, Janice Cavenaugh (who is running to return to the board this year, after being ousted in 2018), George Cox, Dorothy DeShields, Steve Bilzi, and Ed Higgins

[Editor’s note: NHCS no longer archives meeting minutes from before 2016 online; Port City Daily has requested minutes from summer and fall 2005 to see if they document the discussion about honoring Holliday.]

Changing a facility’s name

Changing a facility requires board approval and a period of ‘community input and discussion.’

According to NHCS spokesperson Caress Clegg, “The naming of a New Hanover County facility is a matter deserving thoughtful attention and requires the approval of the Board of Education. If the Superintendent or designee, or at least two Board Members, approve such a proposal, it shall be placed on the Board’s meeting agenda as an information item.”

Clegg also noted that the process would take time.

“To allow for sufficient community input and discussion the proposal can not be added to the agenda any sooner than six months from the date it was published as an information item,” Clegg wrote.

Current petition

The petition, filed by former Laney High School student Chris Sutton, has around 3,500 signatures. The petition echoes allegations made in the current civil suit filed by the victims of former NHCS teacher Michael Earl Kelly, which claim Holliday and other administrators were aware of Kelly’s misconduct and did not act appropriately. It also echoes claims made by former students and parents who say they went to Holliday with serious complaints that were apparently never addressed.

Related Former students, parents say they reported teacher misconduct to Holliday, board members, up to 20 years ago

The petition reads in part:

Due to the egregious nature of events that occurred under the supervision of Rick Holliday during his stint with New Hanover County Schools, we believe it is in the best interest of our community to remove Rick Holliday’s name from the Laney Football Stadium. 

It has come to light that Rick Holliday knew of sexual misconduct allegations against now-convicted child molester and former teacher Michael Kelly and DID NOT fulfill his state-mandated duty to report this to Law Enforcement Officials. 

It should be noted that while the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has an open case of ‘failure to report’ and obstruction of justice against current and former administrators, including Holliday, no charges have been filed and no arrests have been made. The civil case is currently being considered for an ‘exceptional case’ status — this would allow a single dedicated judge to oversee the entire case, which is nowhere near completion.

New Hanover County Board of Education members Nelson Beaulieu and Judy Justice, as well as Chairwoman Lisa Estep, said they would consider a motion to rename the facility.

Port City Daily contacted Katie Weaver Hartzog, who has represented Holliday in his civil suit, to see if she would provide comment for her client. This article will be updated with any additional information.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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