East St. Louis appointed longtime Cahokia High School assistant coach Mark Chambers as the new Flyers head coach Wednesday, making him the school’s seventh boys basketball coach since 2014.
He replaces interim coach Fernando Stevenson, who resigned the position after just 13 games. Chambers, 48, is a 1987 graduate of East St. Louis Lincoln High School. He has spent the last 12 years as an assistant coach under Darian Nash at Cahokia High School. This will be Chambers’ first basketball head coaching job.
“I’m very excited about having the opportunity to coach at East St. Louis High School, a program with a rich tradition,” Chambers said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. “I had a good talk with the players today, and while we have a 7-6 record, we sat and talked about some of the goals we would like to accomplish this season.
“In going forward, I hope to provide some stability for these kids and for this program.”
East St. Louis Athletic Director Leonard Manley said Wednesday morning that Stevenson, who guided the Flyers to a 7-6 record, submitted his letter of resignation Tuesday, citing a desire to “spend more time with his family.”
“I want to say that coaching at my alma mater was magical for me,” Stevenson said in an email. “I felt that I could bring a dimension to the boys team that could propel it to the next level. East St. Louis has been wonderful to me as a player, coach and an employee. I am eternally grateful to District 189 for putting me in a position to remove a bucket-list item. I wish my successor all the best.”
Stevenson, a guidance counselor at East Side, was appointed just 11 days before the season. He replaced Stetson Hairston, who was suspended after a profanity-laced rant during a practice that was caught on an audio recording.
Hairston was preceded by Phillip Gilbert, who was replaced after a single 18-10 season, and Hank Harris, who finished the 2015 season in place of Tony Young. Young was fired under circumstances similar to Hairston’s, when video of a profane halftime speech turned up on YouTube.
Young had been hired to replace Ray Coleman.
Hairston, a former assistant coach at Southwestern Illinois College and a standout at Belleville East and Southern Illinois University Carbondale, was hired last April, just weeks after East St. Louis native Phillip Gilbert was relieved of his coaching duties after leading the Flyers to a 32-22 record the past two years.
“Fernando (Stevenson) was here on an interim basis anyway,” Manley said. “He came to me (Tuesday) and said he wanted to spend more time with his kids and family. I think he has a son playing, and he wanted to watch him a little more.
“These kids on this basketball team have been through a lot with all of the coaching changes. But it’s a resilient group of kids we have here.”
Stevenson, 44, graduated from East St. Louis and was an assistant coach at the school for eight years under the late Dennis Brooks. Stevenson also was an assistant coach for two seasons under Harry Statham at McKendree University, his alma mater.
The Flyers were 2-2 at the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic last week. They played two games without 6-foot-8 senior Joe Reece, who transferred to East St. Louis from Vashon before the season.
Reece, an Old Dominion recruit, did not start in the Flyers’ 76-66 victory over Urbana in the first round of the tournament, although he came off the bench and had 21 points and eight rebounds. Stevenson said after that game that Reece had been late to a recent practice, and Reece vowed it would not happen again.
Reece started the next two games, losses to Collinsville and Edwardsville, but was not available to play in the tournament finale against Oakville, a game East Side won to finish in seventh place. Stevenson said Reece was sidelined by the flu.
In Chambers, the Flyers have a coach who knows about having success on the basketball court and the baseball field. Chambers played for Lincoln coaching legend Bennie Lewis and was the starting point guard on the Tigers’ 1987 Class AA state championship team. That team, which included future NBA star LaPhonso Ellis and future NFL player James Harris, defeated Chicago King 78-62 in the state championship game.
Chambers attended the University of Northern Iowa on a baseball scholarship and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves. He played several seasons of minor league baseball.
But basketball has always been his first love. For the last 12 years, Chambers has been an assistant on one of the top programs in Southern Illinois at Cahokia. He said it was tough to leave the Comanches.
“It was very difficult and very emotional for the coaches and the kids yesterday (Tuesday) when I told them that I was probably leaving,” Chambers said. “It was home for the last 12 years, and Darian (Nash) is like a brother to me.”
East St. Louis, which began the season winning four of five games, will play host to Granite City at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a Southwestern Conference.
Chambers doesn’t plan to change much when the Flyers take on the Warriors.
“We won’t make many changes right now,” Chambers said. “It’s one of those games where I want to see the kids play hard and just have fun.”