April 15, 2014 at 11:54 PM
The Methacton Board of School Directors held its monthly work session before a sea of green T-shirts, speaking to a full house. The LGI Room of the Methacton High School was standing room only, and it wasn’t for anything on the agenda. The green-dressed supporters, donning shirts that read “Team Maida” were only there for one reason: to tell the board about their disappointment and ask that the recently removed Methacton High School wrestling coach Anthony J. Maida be reinstated.
In a nearly three-hour meeting, more than 40 different speakers stood up, all in support of Maida and against the board’s decision to let him go.
Prior to the public’s opportunity to speak, known as the “Courtesy of the Floor,” Methacton Superintendent Dr. David Zerbe read from prepared statement.
“In the past week, I have seen signs of support for our former high school wrestling coach,” said Zerbe. “In all, these messages are representative of the support a well-liked coach would expect.”
The position of head wrestling coach was opened up on Monday, April 7, according to Zerbe in a decision he said stemmed from a recommendation.
“That decision was made as a recommendation by the high school athletic office, which was supported by the high school principal, and subsequently, following an appeal by the former coach to me, was upheld,” he said.
Despite the criticism from the parents and players, Zerbe said the administration handled the matter correctly.
“This decision, regardless of its popularity, was made appropriately and was communicated to each of the stakeholders in a manner appropriate for the privacy rights attributable to the individual of this issue, which is similar for any other school-related position,” said the superintendent.
Though a massive crowd came to support the former coach, Zerbe said that due to the protective nature of matters pertaining to personnel, it was difficult to share with the public all reasons he may have been let go.
“The opening of the head wrestling position has drawn criticism and concern and is met with misinformation,” said Zerbe. “This information either in whole or in part may stem from our inability to address our stakeholders completely to their liking due to our constraints around this matter.”
Zerbe said he and staff of the high school have done their best to communicate all aspects they are permitted to share with parents and students.
“There have been several communications suggesting that there exists a personality conflict or a philosophical difference of sorts between the high school principal and the former coach,” he said. “Statements to this effect are unfounded in fact and are far from reason for the resulting action.”
Zerbe said, while the board and administration cannot likely answer all questions due to the personnel issues surrounding the topic, reasons being floated around as rumors for the firing are incorrect.
“There are aspects of any position that may not be apparent to the players and the parents, yet are equally or are more valuable than those easily observed,” said Zerbe.
Following his statements, a multitude of speakers lined up to offer public comment on the matter. From former wrestlers, taking time out from college studies, to a PAC-10 wrestling official, former Methacton wrestling coaches, neighboring school district’s coaches, parents and players, a litany of reasons were provided as to why the community present did not feel the decision was a wise one.
Raymond Green, of Collegeville, father of state championship wrestler Tracey Green, started things off, amid a choked up explanation about how much the coach had meant to his own son.
“I think Coach Maida was the best for our team,” said Green. “[Maida] said something. He said ‘I have a lot of coaches calling me about your son, about where you’re going to wrestle, but what I worry about is where you’ll get a degree from.’”
Jeff Madden, of Royersford, was a Methacton graduate and spoke as president of the District I Coaching Association. Madden said he represented all of the wrestling coaches in the PAC-10.
“He is a coach that cares about wrestlers and the Methacton wrestling program,” Madden read to the board. The statement was prepared by Tim Seislove, coach of the Spring-Ford High School’s wrestling program. “My opinion is that not renewing the head wrestling contract of A.J. Maida at Methacton High School would be a loss for Methacton, PAC-10 and District I.”
Dennis Kellon, former Methacton coach of 30 years, teacher for 35 years and current chairman on both the Pennsylvania Chapter and the Southeast Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, as well as current chairman of D-1 wrestling, said he wasn’t here representing D-1.
“I’m here representing Methacton, all the parents, and tradition you have here at Methacton,” said Kellon. “[Maida] made fine gentlemen.”
Scott Dorn, a PIAA official who lives in the district, had only positive things to say about Maida.
“He embodies core values,” said Dorn.
Four members of the D’Annunzio family spoke in favor of reinstating Maida, including the parents, son Robert currently at Ursinus, and son Michael, age 13.
“How dare you, Mr. Superintendent, tell the parents on Saturday morning that you know what is in the best interest of our children,” said father, Bill D’Annunzio. “How dare you. And how dare you tell them to remain silent in the aftermath of your decision and not attend the school board meeting and not speak out against your power and your decisions.”
Bill D’Annunzio’s tone and remarks garnered a response from the board members, who reminded speakers to keep comments polite.
“How dare you, Madame Principal, after receiving all of our concerns and emails, and letters, to ask the athletic director to talk to the wrestlers and tell them not to appear here tonight to talk about Coach Maida. How dare you try to silence them.”
Other speakers included current Methacton head football coach, Paul Lepre, who said he appreciated the advice from Maida and enjoyed coaching alongside him.
“He is the heart and soul of the Methacton Wrestling program,” said Lepre. He also noted that since the late 90s a revolving door had created frustrations with the program until Maida gave it stability.
Tim Walsh, Perkiomen Valley High School’s head wrestling coach said he got into education because of coaches he had as child.
“I don’t know another coach in this league, including myself, that works as hard,” said Walsh. “I’m jealous of his kids I see here tonight. He has kids working out with him in the mornings, after school. That says a lot about him.”
Countless current and former wrestlers asked for their beloved coach to be reinstated, alongside future Methacton wrestlers who said they were looking forward to having his coach their high school careers.
Kevin Rebert, of Audubon, president the “Outlaws,” Methacton’s Youth Wrestling Club, said he had seen first-hand Maida speak to a lot of kids.
“You can’t teach the passion like AJ has,” said Rebert. “I don’t think you can buy passion. I think that is important to consider in bringing AJ back. It is rare to find coaches that have that type of passion, that type of drive.”
Many parents said the change in coaching came without warning, and questioned the process that coaches are evaluated on in their positions. Some called for a more formal review process, allowing coaches and parents to be aware of any challenges in the future.
Others noted that Maida was a father-figure to some, stating he put the wrestlers school work before their athletics.
Blake Sprayberry, a former Marine, noted that Maida was a good leader for the young men at Methacton.
“When you find a leader who can touch young people like you see here tonight, you do not let them go,” said the 28-year veteran and retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corp. “I know up-close and personal the importance that a good leader can make in a young person’s life. And when you find a leader who drives people to do more than they ever thought possible, who leads by example, who touches young people, who makes them better than they were before, you do not, do not let them go.”
Following the former-Marine’s remarks, the crowd gave a roaring standing ovation.
School board member Jim Phillips said that he appreciated the input from the community.
“I was where you are five years ago,” said Phillips. “I felt the board was arrogant and didn’t hear me, but we do hear you.”
Phillips, who had asked prior to courtesy of the floor to extend an executive session, said he hoped the board would do its due diligence to find out more on the matter.
“That is one of the reasons I want to go back and talk more and ask questions, so we know fully what’s going on from both sides,” said Phillips. “I don’t take offense of what people may say. Criticism is good at times.”
Phillips added he understood that some questions may have to go unanswered, as it was a matter of personnel.
“We do make our votes based on what we learn from the public, and also what we learn on this side, which the public doesn’t necessarily see. We’re in a tough predicament here being that it is a personnel issue and the laws that govern that.”
Following the meeting, Zerbe reiterated his points presented in the read statement. When asked what “next steps” the board may purse, he said the answer plainly.
“Typically the next step is to find a new head coach,” said the Superintendent. “That will be recommended to the board.”
During his statement, Zerbe said the same.
“Now with our focus on the future,” said Zerbe, “we seek to fill the position of head wrestling coach who exhibits the many qualities defined in our core values, has a strong competitive spirit and is attuned to our long-standing district traditions.”