A former Lake Wales citizen basketball coach for the Lake Wales Highlanders was acquitted of battery, by a jury ruled at the Polk County Courthouse, last Wednesday.
Burney Hayes had been charged with battery after allegedly forcefully removing a basketball player from the gymnasium at Lake Wales High School.
Hayes was fired by the high school after the incident that occurred on Jan. 7, 2013. Currently Hayes is a church pastor in Bowling Green, south of Fort Meade.
If Hayes had been convicted of battery, the misdemeanor charge would have brought up to a year in jail.
Videos of the incident were shown to jurors and students present at the incident testified at the trial. The footage of the episode was taken on a student’s cellphone camera, as well as school cameras.
David Smith, president of the Lake Wales chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was present at the trial and said that he was not surprised at the verdict, noting, “none of the kids were consistent on what they were saying. They all had different stories.”
He added that he was surprised the state took the case to trial in the first place.
“It’s nothing new when coaches have to get real with boys,” Smith said.
“Burney, for some reason, was picked out.”
Smith noted Hayes had been supported all along by other kids he’s helped over the years, who are now adults. Some are professionals, some are ball players, and some are preachers.
“This is nothing new for coaches. That is the way they toughen us up,” Smith said.
“Burney is from the old school. They make men out of us.”
Smith called it a “different way of dealing with things.”
“Even at home. We’ve got our boys toughened. We want them to be men,” he said.
Smith said many of the “boys who come up under Burney,” now follow him to his church in Bowling Green.
“If you ask a kid about who the coach is in Lake Wales, they would say Hayes,” said Smith.
“Hayes got his hands on just about everybody. Amare Stoudemire came up through his house. … He was a hands-on coach.”
Smith said he believes the only reason Hayes was charged was because the student’s mother, Teryl Clark, wanted action taken.
Attempts to reach Clark were unanswered by press time Tuesday.
Donna Dunson, principal at Lake Wales High School, noted that “this has been a difficult situation for both families, and the individuals involved.”
“The verdict was rendered, it is time to move on,” she noted by phone, Friday, of last week.
“There are a lot of people in this community who really care about children and we need to take that concern and push it forward and make things better.”
“Burney doesn’t do anything in this town to hurt children,” Smith noted.
“Anything Burney does in this town is to help children. He’s not going to hurt a kid or mistreat a kid. He loads them all up, the children that need to go to the FCAT and take them over to Kissimmee. He’s out of that for his own pocket. He makes sure that all the boys get their academics.”
Smith added, “Everybody can start healing now. It’s time for healing.”
“That’s what me and Donna Dunson were talking about yesterday. Let’s go forward now and put this thing behind us.”
Attempts to reach Hayes were unanswered as of press time Tuesday.
According to Brian Haas of the State Attorney’s Office, the case had gone to the SAO by complaint affidavit from the Lake Wales Police Department.