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A disagreement over a potential assistant coaching hire resulted in a change of leadership with the Oakton softball team, which saw Sam Newman take over for Ray Gordon last weekend. Assistant coach Chris Corridon is also no longer with the program, while assistant coach Morgan Lamon chose to retain her duties with the team.

Gordon wanted to bring on an additional assistant coach last week, but Oakton Director of Student Activities Pat Full made it clear he wouldn’t hire that assistant. Full refrained from stating his reasons for his position on the assistant upon inquiries from this newspaper.

“There were irreconcilable differences on coaching,” Full said on Tuesday. “[Gordon] wanted to bring in an assistant that we were not able to hire. So with that on Friday he said it’s either all or none. Unfortunately we weren’t able to hire that assistant, so he chose to leave the program.”

Gordon sent an email to Full last week expressing his refusal to change the way he ran Oakton’s softball program. Full called Gordon on Friday while the coach was on the field during pregame warmups for his team’s season opener against South County. Full then sent Gordon a text message indicating the program would move on without him.

“I was kind of still in a bit of a state of shock,” said Gordon, whose team went on to lose that game, 4-0. “Really the reason I kept coaching [that game] was I had to set up this Field Day on Saturday, and that was an event for the whole softball program. And the biggest thing was that I knew that it’s not about me, it’s about the kids. I had to help get the kids through a game.”

Gordon ran the team’s previously scheduled Field Day on Saturday, orchestrating a five-hour event that aimed at cleaning and decorating Oakton’s softball field, bleachers and concessions in preparation for the coming season. After the junior varsity team and several of his varsity players left, he gathered his seniors together to inform them he would no longer be their coach.

“Other than losing both my parents, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” said Gordon, who was entering his fourth season at the helm this spring after serving as an assistant coach for nine years.

Gordon took over an Oakton team that hadn’t qualified for the Northern Region tournament in recent memory and guided them to regionals in each of his three years in charge. The Cougars reached the regional semifinals two years ago and advanced all the way to the region championship game last year, losing to Stone Bridge, 5-4.

While Full suggested Gordon left on his own accord, Gordon reiterated that he never issued an ultimatum to Full, saying he instead intended to retain his duties during a transition period spent searching for a new coach.

“The only thing I’ll say about the whole situation is that I never resigned,” Gordon said. “The only comment I made was, ‘If this is the way it’s going to be, then you should look for another coach, and I’ll stay until you find one and will help with any transition period.’”

Full suggested Gordon’s departure was an unfortunate consequence of a disagreement that could not be overcome.

“Absolutely it’s upsetting he’s leaving,” Full said. “I know that Ray Gordon did a lot for our softball program. They did have a tremendous amount of success under his leadership. I know that the girls are definitely disappointed to see him go, as we are. But unfortunately we couldn’t resolve the situation.”

Oakton principal John Banbury placed a call on Friday to Sam Newman, someone he knew had significant prior experience coaching softball. Newman, who currently works as the Director of Employee Performance and Development in Human Resources for the Fairfax County Public School system, accepted the offer and was introduced to the team Monday.

Newman, who has three full-grown children, coached baseball and softball in youth leagues and alongside Bill Hanley at Fairfax High for several years in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. He left the softball program at Fairfax in 1998.

Newman hopes to make the transition as smooth as possible for his players and to help continue building on recent success.

“They were competitive before I got here,” said Newman, who brought on John Sommer as an assistant coach. “They’re playing for themselves. They’re not playing for any of these three coaches. Our job is to just go out there and get better and make sure we can compete.”

Many Oakton players were dismayed by the news over the weekend but decided to stick together as best they could. They gathered at one player’s house and made shirts saying, ‘Oakton Softball: Family.’ They promised to heed their former coach’s advice of welcoming and playing hard for their new coach.

“Our goal is to get back to states,” said junior pitcher Allison Davis, who has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Virginia. “That has not changed, no matter what happened. We’re just going to work hard and take it game by game.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com