St. Francis High School soccer coach fired for clown photo

The St. Francis High School girls' soccer coach has been fired over a controversial clown photo - that he says stemmed from the team's Halloween tradition.

Ben Hildre, coach of a St. Francis JV girls' soccer team, says every year his team enjoys celebrating Halloween on the last day of practice. The tradition started on a club team he had coached previously. This season, he says he wore a clown mask that he's had for years. He wore it not because of the craze, but because his gorilla costume is damaged.

"I just drove by, waved, practiced and went and took a picture by that garbage can," said Hildre. "I wasn't trying to make light of a bad situation and bad judgment on my part for being naïve."

The volunteer soccer coach says he never imagined his team's request to take a picture of him wearing the mask would lead to an unintended creepy clown sighting on Wednesday. The photo circulated across social media. By Friday night, the picture cost him his job.

The student who made the initial report to the superintendent tells Fox 9 she was "appalled" that an adult would wear a clown mask, in light of the reports of scary clown sightings across the country. She says when she found out the person wearing the mask was the school's soccer coach, she reached out to the superintendent.

Independent School District 15 Superintendent Troy Ferguson defends the decision to discontinue Hildre's services.

"We all make mistakes and this was a big one," said Ferguson. "Kids are scared and it's not okay for adults to be part of that to make kids scared."

Ben Hildre's team now rallies behind their coach.

"It was a joke, none of us felt threatened at all," said Madison Mart, a St. Francis High School senior.

"It's just sad that they took this out of proportion and got rid of him," said Elsie Johnson, a St. Francis High School senior.

Monday night, the team joined a dozen parents to ask the school board to "Bring Ben back."

Now, Hildre worries he'll never coach again all over a mask that ironically is reminiscent of his time as a St. Francis High School senior back in 2001.

"I was actually voted class clown up here," he said.

Hildre has served as a volunteer coach at the school for two years, namely, to spend more time with his daughter and empower young girls. Including youth soccer club teams, he has coached soccer a total of six years.

"All I really want is to teach these girls, build up their self-esteem, have fun at the sport and enjoy," he said.

Superintendent Ferguson adds nowhere in the letter he sent Hildre Friday does it say that his services would be discontinued permanently.

The school board says they will get back to parents and students about a decision on whether or not he will be welcomed back as a volunteer coach.