Soccer parents challenge MVSB
BY TOM FONTANA
More than 50 parents and students crowded the Mountain View board room Monday night in support of soccer coach Roger Thomas, whose team won a state title last fall.
Several speakers challenged the fairness of the administration’s decision last October to suspend Thomas from participating in an exhibition game that took place prior to the championship game.
According to superintendent Francine Shea, Thomas was banned from coaching the scrimmage as a disciplinary action for, among other things, unsportsmanlike conduct at an Old Forge game, which the Eagles won 24-1.
Thomas had been accused of allowing his top varsity team members to continue to play despite scoring that was overwhelming the opposing team.
Before allowing the visitors at the board meeting to comment, board president Todd Adams said he was aware of rumors that the soccer league was considering sanctions against the Mt. View team, but that the district had not received any correspondence to that affect from the PIAA.
He also set “parameters” for the speakers, including a two-minute speaking limit, and a ban on discussing the suspension of Coach Thomas.
“The board can’t discuss personnel issues,” he explained. “As far as the board is concerned, that matter is closed.”
But the suspension of Thomas seemed to be the reason most of the visitors were in the room.
Lisa Schmidt of Harford, whose son is a member of the team, opened the public comment portion of the meeting by reading a statement condemning the suspension decision.
“Superintendent Shea’s action reinforced that our players should be punished,” she stated. “Please ask Roger to coach soccer next year. The board should vigorously defend our coach against any action by the PIAA. We are the best in the state at only one thing, and that’s soccer. Don’t apologize for our excellence in soccer.”
Board member Elwood Williams asked Schmidt, “What would motivate any school administrator to do anything that was not in the best interest of Mountain View or the soccer team?”
“There is someone who has influence over the board who hates Roger,” she replied.
“Well if there is,” Williams responded, “I’m not aware of it.”
“I’m sure they’re talking about me,” Adams stated, “because I complained (about the score) at the Old Forge game.”
Schmidt would not say who she was referring to, but revealed that the person is not a member of the school board.
Much of the discussion centered on the accusation by Coach Thomas and assistant coach Bill McDonald that high school principal Robert Presley approached Thomas during the Old Forge game to say that Adams was upset that Thomas continued to put his best players on the field despite the lopsided score.
“He came up to me and told me the school board president was angry,” Thomas stated, “and that ‘stuff will hit the fan’ if I didn’t do something. And as we can see, stuff did hit the fan.”
Presley acknowledged that he did speak to Thomas at the game after Adams complained, but that ‘stuff will hit the fan’ were his words, not those of Adams.
“They may not have been the board president’s words,” Thomas replied, “but that was your impression of his intent. At that point, that caused a conflict, because Adam’s son was on the bench, he’s a member of the team.”
Jane Mack, whose son Austin scored the goal that gave the team the championship, referred to the athletic handbook.
“No one is allowed to give directions to a coach during a game,” she said. “If I had approached you (Presley) and complained, would you have acted in the same way?”
Thomas also pointed out that most of the problems during the season stemmed from Mt. View being put in Division III with weaker teams, and Mt. View had no choice but to outplay them. Mt. View Elementary School principal Andrew Doster (who was high school principal when the Division III change was made), said he warned PIAA members of the imbalance.
“I called the league president and expressed my concern to all league members at meetings,” Doster told the visitors. “But the league voted overwhelmingly to make the change.”
Superintendent Shea defended her decision on suspending Coach Thomas.
“There were other things considered besides the Old Forge score,” she said. “I can’t discuss those in public, but Coach Thomas knows what they are. He confirmed them, but that doesn’t mean he agreed with them. If he wants to say what they are he can. But I can’t.”
She admitted that she knew her decision would be unpopular.
“But when I consulted the board,” she said, “not one board member thought that there should not be a suspension.”
Thomas said another reason Shea gave him for the suspension was that he earned two ‘yellow cards’ from officials during the season, which he said he got for repeatedly objecting when officials failed to call fouls on opposing players who he felt were endangering the safety of his team members
“Yes, there were times I begged officials for yellow cards,” he explained as he waived his hand in the air like he was holding a card. “I was accused of arrogance for doing that, but I wear those yellow cards as badges of honor that show my concern for the safety of my players.”
(Beyond the game score being a source of embarrassment to the other team and receiving yellow cards, Thomas said he was not aware of other reasons for his suspension.)
Several more parents and students spoke in support of Thomas being retained as soccer coach for the next school year, and urged the board to strongly defend him if the PIAA decides to take further action.
“We’re a family, we watch each others backs,” soccer team member Austin Mack told the board. “Mountain View would not be the same without Coach Thomas.”
For other items discussed at Monday night’s meeting, check back in our Feb. 13 edition.