Bethlehem Christian Academy head football coach and athletic director Lance Fendley was removed from those positions Thursday, effective immediately, bringing an abrupt end to a seven-year tenure at the school.

“Even though this was an unexpected occurrence, I am very proud of the progress and accomplishments made in the past seven years,” Fendley said in a short statement. He added that the move was “not a resignation. That was not an option.”

Fendley did not provide further comment.

Mike Elmankabady, an assistant on the boys basketball team and the school’s director of spiritual life, has been named interim athletic director.

The Knights went 20-42 in Fendley’s six seasons at the helm, their best finish coming in 2017 when they went 6-5. BCA reached the postseason for the first time in program history in 2016. The Knights got off to a 2-0 start last fall, but lost eight straight the rest of the way to finish 2-8. Fendley was an assistant in 2012 before becoming head coach in 2013. Under his watch as athletic director, the school has expanded its programs and gone from competing in GISA Class A to Class AAA.

In an email to the Barrow News-Journal, BCA headmaster Rhonda Whiting thanked Fendley for his contributions to the school but said the administration “feel(s) that it is best at this time that the academy move in a different direction.”

“Coach Fendley has helped BCA grow and develop in the area of athletics and has made a big impact on our campus,” Whiting wrote. “He has left his fingerprints in the BCA history books during his time at Bethlehem Christian Academy.”

This is the second time in less than two months that a coach/athletic official has been removed from his position at BCA. In January, head girls basketball coach Mike Griggs was dismissed in the middle of the season. School officials characterized the move at the time as a mutual parting of ways, but people familiar with the situation later said it was the result of school policy violations.

“It definitely is a rare occasion that the release of two coaches happens in the same year. That is unfortunate, but the two situations are completely different,” Whiting said. “Coach Fendley is definitely highly-regarded at BCA. …Sometimes hard decisions have to be made in order to move an organization forward. BCA has grown rapidly and it is time for us to bring in an administratively-strong athletic director.

“Although it may not be the norm for a release to occur in March, it is definitely the best time for both BCA and for Coach Fendley to seek other plans. Spring is the season where many athletic plans for the new year are made.”

Whiting did not say when exactly a decision on a new athletic director and football coach would be made, but she said “due to the growth of our athletic program,” she is leaning toward separating the two roles, “although I will keep an open mind during my interview process.”

Hiring a football coach, perhaps in time for spring practice in May, will be the school’s first focus, Whiting said.

“As a ministry, we will seek candidates who are strong spiritually as well as strong in the area of guiding young men on the football field,” she said.

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