New Castle News

December 3, 2013

Laurel High: Cross country coach says losing his job ‘mind-boggling’

Corey J. Corbin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Greg Schmitt probably won’t get a chance at a three-peat.

Schmitt confirmed last night that the Laurel School District has opened his position as the high school cross country coach. The job opening is posted on the district’s website.

“It was a huge surprise,” said the sixth-year coach, who led the girls team to back-to-back WPIAL championships the past two seasons. “It’s a total shocker to me. It just doesn’t make any sense. I just don’t get it. It’s just mind-boggling.”

Both Laurel athletic director Mike Tinstman and coordinator of student affairs Steve Skerbetz declined comment, citing school policies regarding personnel matters.



THE ALLEGATIONS

Schmitt, 32, said he was told he wasn’t loyal enough to the school district and was accused of swearing at his players after an away meet.

“They told me that I don’t bleed green and that I’m anti-Laurel,” he said. “There’s been times that I haven’t put applications in at some colleges, because I love coaching at Laurel.

“They also said there was an altercation after the Tri-County meet. They said I was yelling and swearing once I got on the bus. I said talk to the bus driver. The bus driver told me, ‘What altercation?’ She said I didn’t swear at the kids, but they came back to me and said there was an altercation. The bus driver said I never raised my voice and I never swore at the kids. She said I was as nice as can be. There’s nothing that they’ve proven. The bus has audio and video recordings and when they reviewed them, there was nothing there.”

Schmitt claims he was never allowed to refute the allegations, which he was he was told originally were made by a parent.

“They didn’t even call me in the next day after that meeting (between the administration and parent) to defend myself,” he said. “They didn’t tell me what was said. They went about their work day like nothing happened. In six years, I’ve never had a written warning. They could have said ‘These parents are mad and we’re going to give you a warning.’ There was nothing just ‘You’re gone!’ ”

Schmitt said runners on the team have voiced their support.

“I talked to the kids and they’re all upset,” he noted. “They want me back. They said they wouldn’t run for another coach. Like I told the school if I did something that bad, the kids wouldn’t want me back. If it was true, they’d be like ‘We want him gone.’ If I don’t come back, a lot of these kids have said they want to hire me as a personal trainer. That, to me, shows that everything Laurel is saying isn’t true. That it’s all politics and someone wants my position.”



DEFENDING COMMENTS

Schmitt said school administrators also told him they took offense with the following comments Schmitt made to the New Castle News following the Tri-County Championships at Neshannock High on Oct. 5: “I’m pleased with (the Laurel girls team) winning. Shenango really brought their ‘A’ game and made us earn it. We got lucky and pulled it out. Shenango ran better than we did. We had our homecoming game last night and people didn’t rest up like they should have, but we still won. We could have done a little better. We could have had our top five in the top 10, but we didn’t. Some things didn’t go right for us. I was pretty happy with the outcome, but it could have been a little better.”

“It all started over that comment after Tri-County,” Schmitt said. “They said that comment was negative and I was bringing a bad spotlight to the school. They said I was sending the kids on an emotional roller coaster.”

Schmitt defended his comments.

“All I was saying was show sportsmanship to Shenango and that I wished we had done better,” he said. “One parent got mad and went to the school about it. I was told this one parent had 20 minutes to blast off on that comment. The school listened to that one parent.”



A FAMILIAR FACE

Schmitt already has reapplied for his old coaching position.

“As soon as they told me that they weren’t bringing me back, I turned in my application to the principal and to the superintendent,” he said. “There were two parents that witnessed me turn it in. That way they couldn’t tell other parents that I didn’t want to reapply.”

The Laurel board will hold its monthly meeting at 6:45 tonight in the high school. Several parents called The News in recent days to voice their support for Schmitt.

“Some of the parents have called me and said they want as many people there as possible to show support for me,” Schmitt said. “Almost 450 people have signed a petition to bring me back. There’s a physical copy and one on change.org. If I’m that bad of a guy, how can kids that have already graduated say ‘Bring Coach Schmitt back.’ ”

Schmitt is worried about his runners’ futures.

“What if a new coach ha a different strategy and training methods and a girl that’s running a race in 17 minutes starts to run it in 19,” he asked. “You might cost that girl a Division I scholarship.”

Schmitt led the girls cross country team to back-to-back WPIAL Class A team titles and to a fourth-place finish at the state meet this past fall. He has had 29 individuals qualify for the state meet — including a pair of WPIAL individual champions in Evan Miller and Emily Maxwell — and four state medalists.

The Spartans have earned five Tri-County crowns, two Midwestern Athletic Conference titles and a pair of section championships during his time as head coach.

“I love coaching cross country and I love coaching these kids,” Schmitt said. “I love the school district. I hope I get to come back and coach until I retire. If I don’t, it’s really sad, because I love coaching here and I won’t get to finish out my coaching career at a place that I helped build.”

(Email: C_Corbin@ncnewsonline.com).