New Castle News

December 5, 2013

Our Opinion: Laurel must resolve cross-country questions

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — We readily admit we have no firsthand insight into a dispute involving Laurel High School’s cross-country coach.

But we do know these controversies have consequences, and we think Laurel officials need to take some positive steps in order to minimize them.

At issue is a decision by the Laurel school board to open the position of cross-country coach Greg Schmitt. This comes despite the fact Laurel’s girls cross-country team has captured the last two WPIAL championships.

So one presumes the move to seek applicants for the position has nothing to do with Schmitt’s coaching skills. But Laurel officials aren’t explaining their rationale, understandably citing personnel considerations in the matter.

However, Schmitt has talked to the New Castle News. And he claims the decision stems from comments he had made to this newspaper after a meet that Laurel officials supposedly decried as negative toward the district. He also said a parent had complained that Schmitt had used profanity in front of students during a bus trip following a meet.

From what we see, the comments cited by Schmitt hardly qualify as a reason to get rid of a coach. As for allegations of swearing, cross-country team members who showed up at Tuesday night’s Laurel school board meeting in support of Schmitt denied any such incident took place.

If there were other problems with Schmitt within the district, we don’t know what those are.

So what we have is a school district working to remove a successful coach, who appears to have widespread support from team members and their parents. The justification for Schmitt’s removal effectively stands as a puzzle.

And it’s a puzzle that has the potential to damage morale at Laurel. Student athletes confused by the situation are bound to wonder about the decision-making process within the school system. And other coaches may receive the message that they are walking on eggshells, with support potentially withdrawn from them for flimsy reasons.

None of that is helpful. And we think Laurel officials must take some meaningful steps to resolve it.

First, they need to review the decision-making process to date. If the move to oust Schmitt was based primarily on now-disputed allegations about swearing, that ought to be grounds to revisit the decision.

Plus, it also should serve as a warning about jumping to conclusions. Was the complaint against Schmitt properly investigated? Was the evidence reviewed?

By making his dissatisfaction with Laurel’s decision public, Schmitt has basically waived any privacy rights. This creates the opportunity for Laurel to clear the air.