Year later, Kewpies bring back old coach

Tuesday, May 2, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hickman hired a familiar face to fill its girls’ basketball coaching vacancy.

The school announced Monday that former coach Tonya Mirts will return to her old post. Mirts coached the Kewpies girls’ basketball team for 11 seasons until stepping down at the end of the 2004-05 season. In her time at Hickman, Mirts led the Kewpies to five straight district titles and seven overall, earning runner-up finishes in the state tournament at the Class 4A level in 2002 and then again at the Class 5 level in 2004.

Tonya Mirts replaces Curt Riley, who coached the Kewpies to an 11-17 record last season, his first with the team. Riley was not asked to return.

Riley said Hickman Athletic Director Doug Mirts, Tonya Mirts’ husband, never gave him a clear explanation of why his contract was terminated, saying the only thing Doug Mirts told him was that “there were concerns with the program.”

Riley, who came to Hickman from Kirksville where he compiled a record of 201-89 over 11 years, will stay at Hickman as a teacher. He said next year he will be the assistant coach for the Columbia College women’s basketball team.

Tonya Mirts said she stepped down after the 2005 season to spend more time with her family. Now, Mirts said she thinks she can coach and still spend time with her family.

“It has been such a large part of my life since I was little,” Tonya Mirts said. “I thought that it was having a real tug on me by sharing time between my own children and the children I coached. I talked a lot about it with my family. I am still able to attend my kids’ events in the spring and fall, and in the winter they will be watching Kewpies basketball.”

Mirts said that her husband didn’t have any influence on her decision to return.

Hickman Principal Mike Jeffers said Tonya Mirts was the best qualified candidate for the job.

“Out of the three that were interviewed, she was the strongest,” Jeffers said. “Her goals for the program and goals for working with the girls were the best out of the three.”

Jeffers was part of a hiring committee which consisted of Columbia Public Schools Athletic Director Bruce Whitesides and Hickman’s Gregg Nesbitt, the physical education department chair, as well as Doug Mirts.

Jeffers said Tonya Mirts’ knowledge of the program as a teacher at the school was also a plus.

Tonya Mirts said her decision to step down as coach after the 2005 season was a good decision.

“It wasn’t a mistake,” Tonya Mirts said. “It was a very important decision in my life. But (coaching) is what I am really cut out to do.”

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