Hardball

How softball coach Holly Nuber won the state championship -- and lost her job

Foster and other coaches belittle the parents' complaints about awards, saying that Nuber's behavior was well within the bounds of professional conduct. "I don't know what this awards stuff is in Pearland," says Foster. "You have a bunch of busybodies there."

James McClanahan, the softball coach at Elkins High, says that he doesn't give any individual awards to his team, and has never suffered repercussions. He readily admits that Nuber benefited from the talented kids on her team, but he praises her abilities as a coach. "She, as the coach, molded that team," he says. "You can't give her credit for scoring the runs, but you can't take away the fact that she is responsible for molding the team that won."

Another coach, who asked to remain anonymous, was shocked to hear Nuber had been fired. "Ninety-nine percent of coaches lose their jobs when they don't win," she says. "You think winning a championship at state level is job security."

That coach belittles Nuber's transgressions. "We all show videos we maybe shouldn't," she said. "We all fail to fill out some forms. When you start looking in files, you'll find that."

On examination, the issue of the Eddie Murphy video seems especially trivial. During the same time period, the Pearland High School library offered three R-rated films for checkout. A Pearland ISD spokesperson says that the school wasn't aware of the rating, and has now yanked the videos.

A letter from Chronicle softball reporter Jerome Soloman negates the accusation that Nuber failed in her press relations. "Obviously she has permanently etched my phone number into her automatic redial," Solomon wrote Nelson, "because besides sending weekly faxes of the team's latest statistics to me at both my home and at the office, I was guaranteed a day-after-the-game telephone call from Coach Nuber touting the exploits of her squad. No other coach is more aggressive, willing or accessible than Coach Nuber."

At 9:10 on Monday morning, the vacation Bible schoolers at First Baptist Church pledge allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. Assistant pastor Rod Compton then announces a surprise for the church kids: a visit from the championship girls' softball team.

Eight of the 14 Lady Oilers burst through the sanctuary door and run down the aisle -- fresh-faced, upbeat, hometown heroines with ponytails swinging behind them. The Bible schoolers applaud.

Lea Mishlan acts as the team spokesperson, telling the kids how hard the Lady Oilers worked to accomplish their goal. Many of them, she says, played together in Pixie leagues, practicing long hours for years.

She never mentions Nuber, and it's no wonder. First Baptist Church is conservative even by Pearland's standards; it's certainly the wrong place to praise a coach suspected of lesbianism. Earlier this year, pastor Rick Scarborough published Enough is Enough: A Call to Christian Involvement. In the book, he decried the amorality of gays and lesbians; "sodomites," he called them. In a chapter titled, "From the Closet to the Classroom," he states that homosexuality is wrong, and so is silence in the face of it. He urges increased Christian involvement in schools and government, and rejoices that three members of his church serve on Pearland's City Council, four on its school board. He explicitly praises the principal of Pearland High.

After their Bible school appearance, the players spill into the church foyer, where they meet a reporter. Once again, Mishlan speaks for the team. The other girls gather around her -- all but Melissa Coronado, who stands a few feet back from the group.

The girls laugh as Mishlan explains what it takes to win a championship: "Team bonding." They fondly recall the dance they did on the bus before every game, the cheer about bashing the bird's head.

Still, no one mentions the coach. When the reporter finally asks Mishlan about the firing, she replies, "I knew that question was coming." She also knew the firing was coming, she says. Rumors had been in the air.

Mishlan takes her parents' position: the firing was fair, and she has no complaints. Other players nod in agreement.

"I think this team can win next year with a new coach," Mishlan says, and no one contradicts her. Even post-season, the team obviously doesn't lack for self-esteem or cohesion. The only individual excluded from the cozy, cheerful group seems to be Holly Nuber.

On a Monday evening, more than a week after Nuber filed her grievance, the Pearland City Council is meeting to proclaim June 2430 "Lady Oilers Week." The team sits in the front rows of the chambers. Nuber is nowhere in sight.

The night before, on the phone, she said that she was nervous about tonight's event, about facing the team and the town for the first time since her grievance raised the issue of her sexual orientation. On one hand, she feared she might be booed or hissed. On the other, she felt she had nothing to be ashamed of. When she heard about the team's appearance at First Baptist, Nuber wasn't angry that the girls had appeared at a homophobic church. Instead, she simply felt left out, sad that she hadn't been invited.

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