In a community that takes pride in its successful high school wrestling program, neither side in a controversy over use of plastic training suits by wrestlers last year and the firing of two coaches seems ready to tap out yet.
At a meeting Thursday, Plainwell Community Schools Superintendent Sue Wakefield explained her decision to fire former wrestling head coach Travis Reardon and assistant coach Tom Meert after an investigation found numerous wrestlers last year wore banned plastic suits to drop weight before competitions.
“I’m not saying the coaches had knowledge of (the use of plastics), but it happened on their watch,” Wakefield said. “All our coaches have a responsibility to know what’s going on in their programs. …The investigation found that this was not a one-year occurrence at Plainwell High School.”
The Michigan High School Athletic Association, which develops rules for athletic eligibility and competition, has placed the wrestling program on probation for the 2008-09 school year.
Last week, the two coaches filed an appeal of Wakefield’s decision with the school board. It’s unknown when the board will make a ruling on the appeal, Wakefield said, but she added she would like the see the process move “expeditiously.”
Some who opposed Wakefield’s decision became frustrated at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting at Plainwell High School when a mediator said there would be no back-and-forth discussion between the audience and administration officials. Instead, the roughly 60 people in attendance were asked to break into smaller groups and write down their thoughts and concerns. Two groups formed — one that clearly supported Wakefield, another that clearly opposed her decision.
“The superintendent was hired to promote safety and education to students, and that’s what she did,” said Nikki Barth. “I don’t understand why (the firings) are an issue.”
Josh Farmer saw things differently. “If a wrestler was using plastics, the responsibility is on the kids and the parents, not the coaches,” Farmer said.
Wakefield said she would respond in writing to concerns raised at Thursday’s meeting by next week. The issue is not on the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting, but the superintendent said she expects much of the public-comment portion to be spent on it.