ST. FRANCIS, Minn. - Coaching soccer and basketball in St. Francis is Ben Hildre’s passion. A passion that was taken from him with the snap of a picture on the last day of freshman soccer practice.
“It’s blown out of proportion in my eyes,” Hildre said.
Hildre says it's his tradition, at the end of every season, to have fun. Time to hit piñatas and dress up in a costume.
This year, he picked the wrong costume. A creepy clown.
“It was nothing malicious,” Hildre said.
Hildre says he wasn't aware of the so-called "creepy clown craze." But his players were and tweeted a photo of Hildre wearing the clown mask as a joke.
The players say they weren’t trying to scare the community. Not trying to insinuate there was a real “creepy clown” sighting in St. Francis.
“No, definitely not,” the girls said.
The next day, Hildre received a letter from the district superintendent stating he'll no longer be coaching.
“Getting taken away from basketball coming up is like taking me from my family,” Hildre said.
“I didn't intend for that to happen,” said the teen who sent the tweet.
“I'd say that the safety and security of kids is not an overreaction,” said Troy Ferguson, St. Francis Superintendent.
Ferguson says in the days leading up to this incident, he heard from teachers at the elementary school and middle school that several kids were very afraid of those reports of scary clowns around the country. He says this was poor timing and very poor judgment.
“And they're just very, very afraid of it,” Ferguson said.
Several of Hildre's players and their parents spoke to the school board Monday night on his behalf.
“It was just so quick to fire someone who's helped so many girls,” one teen said.
“I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't have Ben,” said another.
“He just got thrown under the bus,” another teen said.
It might not make a difference, but Hildre hopes he gets a second chance.
“It’s like this is my life and it just gets me here, you know?” Hildre said, pointing to his heart.
The school board didn't make any sort of ruling after hearing from the kids. Hildre was an unpaid volunteer coach, and he’s not a teacher.
Ferguson said it's possible Hildre can return next year. But for now, he won't be coaching basketball this winter.