Corey J. Corbin
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Former Laurel High cross country coach Greg Schmitt has the support of his team members and their parents.
The question, however, is whether the embattled coach has the support of the school district and its board of directors.
Schmitt had the backing of a large portion of the nearly 70 people in attendance at last night’s meeting of the Laurel School Board. He was told his position was opened after allegations arose he was disloyal to the district and swore at his runners.
No action about Schmitt’s coaching position was taken during the meeting. The board went into executive session for personnel matters after the meeting adjourned.
“I love coaching here,” Schmitt said following the meeting. “I love the school district and I love the community. Does the school, the administration and this community love me enough to bring me back? The community spoke. They said ‘Yes.’ Now, does the administration, the faculty and the school district love me as much as I love working here. It’s in their hands.
“It was real nice to see my runners, former runners and parents come up to support me. I was very happy. Now I’m just really sad. These kids are going to suffer over a few people. They’re not giving the kids their coach back, the coach they want. It’s not fair.”
THE NEXT STEP
The district will accept internal applications until Dec. 13, according to coordinator of student affairs Steve Skerbetz. Skerbetz said after the meeting that he couldn’t comment further on the situation, citing school policies regarding personnel matters. Skerbetz was unsure of when the district would settle on a coach.
“To me, it was like I figured it would be,” Schmitt said. “They’ve already made their decision. They’re not going to bring me back. They already know who they want.”
Schmitt, 32, said he has been told that he will retain his position as a security guard with the district.
“That’s telling you right there that there’s nothing and there never was anything,” he said. “It’s just stuff they’re nitpicking on. If the accusations happened, why do all the kids want me back if I was that bad?”
Chris Niles spoke last night on behalf of his son Chris, who runs cross country in Laurel’s junior high program. The elder Niles noted how much Schmitt has helped his son grow and mature as a person.
“Coach Schmitt has done a lot for my son,” said Niles, a 1995 Laurel graduate. “In two years, he has built my son into one heck of a runner and has brought him out of his shell. It takes a special coach to get inside a kid’s head and get them to do things for you. I had several coaches do that for me.”
Bobby Dicks, whose daughters Brooke and Kristin run for the girls varsity team, spoke in favor of retaining Schmitt, who has led the girls team to back-to-back WPIAL Class A championships the past two years and a fourth-place finish at the state meet this fall.
“Just look at his record, it speaks for itself,” Dicks said in a prepared speech. “We truly have a great coach. It’s upon all of us to save this relationship. I think he’s truly committed to win and I believe in my heart we have a coach that is committed to the school, to the program and to the kids. As a coach, you can’t be a student-athlete’s best friend. Sometimes, you have to be able to prove a point on how you want things done.”
Dicks posed a pair of questions for the school board, which weren’t answered.
“Is it possible to save this relationship?” he asked, and, “If coach Schmitt is the best applicant for the job, will he be offered the job?”
THE KIDS’ CHOICE
At least a dozen of Schmitt’s current and former cross country runners showed up at last night’s meeting and presented the board with two petitions in support of their coach.
“He’s a great coach and what he’s done for this program is just amazing,” senior captain Brooke Dicks said after the meeting. “This whole thing is just crazy. For me personally, I don’t think I would have gotten college scholarships if it wasn’t for him. He’s awesome. He’s always been there for us and has always had our backs. Who would want to put up with 40 kids during the summer every day? I wouldn’t want to do it. He does it, because he loves the sport.
“He goes out of his way to do stuff for us, because he cares. He’ll come to basketball games to watch us play. He’ll come to stuff like graduation parties, because he wants to see us succeed in what we want to do.”
Junior boys No. 3 runner Josh Hassett supported his now-former coach’s motivational tactics.
“His way is the best way to train,” Hassett said. “I believe there’s no other way to do it. He pushes us hard. I do have to say that. When I first got here, I wasn’t a good runner whatsoever and he started talking to me. My first day here, he told me the harder I push myself the better I get, so I put that in my mind this year and I made it all the way to the No. 3 spot on the team. He’s pushing us the perfect amount.”
Sophomore co-captain Kristin Dicks said Schmitt’s methods never went too far.
“In practice, there’s times when we need to get down to business and be serious, like before races,” she said. “Then there’s times when we can hang out, laugh and tell jokes. He cracks down on us a lot, but that’s because he expects a lot out of us. We’d probably get out of control if he didn’t. I don’t think he takes things too far. Yeah, he pushes us, but it’s just enough that we get our heads back on straight and focus on what we need to be doing and not where we’re going after (practice or the meet).”
Hassett said he was present the day Schmitt is accused of yelling and swearing at his runners.
“I was on the bus,” Hassett said. “There were so very few of us, because it was the night of homecoming. A lot of people left early to get ready. The only people that were talking were him and the bus driver. They were talking about the meet and what was going on. He wasn’t even yelling at us or anything. He got on the bus and said ‘Good job today, everybody.’ That was it.
“When you lose a meet, you’ll be mad obviously, but he’ll pull you aside personally. He doesn’t flip out on us and he doesn’t swear at us.”
Kristin Dicks defended Schmitt.
“I’ve had so many coaches since I was in fourth grade and he’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” she said. “He’s always there for us in and out of the sport. He’s there for us academically. He wants to push us both in academics and in sports. He makes sure we’re the best we can be.
“He cares about us. He’s told me himself that he’s not in it for the money. He’s in it for the kids. He’s not in it for the winning. He wants to see us go as far as we can go.”