Apr 30, 2012 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
The now former Marcellus baseball coach Pete Birmingham told the Eagle Observer that Athletic Director Brad Dates wanted to schedule a meeting at 1 p.m. on Friday, April 20, to discuss his status as coach, a position he held for nine years.
Birmingham said that because of a prior commitment – he’s selling a business – he was unable to attend the meeting. In response, Birmingham said, he was called by Dates and told he either had to resign or be fired. Birmingham said he gave it some thought, and decided he was going to quit, so he called back Dates and informed him. He said Dates told him, during the initial phone call, that Birmingham needed to turn in his and his assistants’ jerseys and keys. Dates also requested a resignation note, which Birmingham declined to provide.
“I told [Dates] I could meet after practice,” Birmingham said. “He told me he couldn’t do that.” Birmingham said he wanted the meeting to include his entire coaching staff.
Birmingham said Dates’ response to that request was: “You think you set the criteria? You need to resign or you will be fired.”
“I’m the head coach in name only,” Birmingham said. “We are four equal parts, and that’s why I wanted everyone to be there.”
Larry Craft, Jim Alford and Mike Bome, Birmingham’s assistant coaches, confirm the story. The three said they were never told they had to resign or be fired – they say they weren’t contacted at all – but they collectively decided to quit with Birmingham. School district officials said Dates wouldn’t comment – multiple direct requests for interview weren’t returned –¬ and Superintendent Craig Tice, who has a son on the team, said because this is a personnel matter, he would not comment, either, but did grant an interview as the district’s spokesperson.
On the topic of Dates’ and Birmingham’s meeting, Tice explained in his statement the school’s side:
“Coach Birmingham and his three volunteer assistants did not attend the Friday, April 20, 2012 practice nor the Saturday, April 21, 2012 away game at Bishop Grimes High School. After tabling all resignations and appointments from the consent agenda of their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, April 23, 2012, the Board of Education moved to executive session to discuss personnel matters involving the employment history of a coach as well as collective negotiations with one of the school’s district’s bargaining units. Subsequently, the Board of Education exited executive session and took action on Coach Birmingham’s resignation. The Board of Education vote was unanimous (6-0) as was the related action item in which Coach Brian Petric (the junior varsity coach) was promoted to the varsity team, Tom Shea (one of two modified baseball coaches) was promoted to junior varsity team and Mike Weiskotten (a high school physical education teacher) was appointed as the replacement modified baseball coach. All of these new appointments were effective immediately and for the remainder of the current season.
“The school took delivery of Coach Birmingham’s school-issued uniforms via parcel post on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 along with his building keys and security access pass. Coach Birmingham also provided a type-written note in that same package indicating that he had picked up his personal effects and equipment at the high school gymnasium over the weekend.”
A request to speak with Principal John Durkee was denied. Tice, however, sent an email to the Eagle Observer and followed-up with a phone call. Tice said he wasn’t listening in on the phone call where Birmingham said he was told to resign or be let go, therefore he couldn’t comment on the allegation.
“I was not privy to the phone call,” Tice said in the phone conversation. “I know Mr. Dates tried to get Mr. Birmingham in a meeting, and I know Mr. Birmingham said he was unable to attend.”
Tice added: “I can’t believe that there was only one time for a meeting,” meaning he felt the two could have explored other options in getting together.
Birmingham led the Mustangs to the Section III Class B title last season before losing in the state semifinal. His resume is impressive; he has the most wins of any baseball coach in school history. His firing has sparked much discussion in the community, as some felt he was a great coach; however, those who spoke to the Eagle Observer did so under the condition of anonymity. Some were parents of players; others simply members of the community.
The coaches admit there had been controversy brewing since last year, and it spilled over to this year. Three players were suspended and a player was lost due to a wrist injury. In turn, this forced Birmingham to seek alternative player options. He said he had a few freshmen he felt were ready to step in.
“We had a very limited roster at that point,” Bome said.
“The next best player we had to step in was a freshman,” Craft said.
“It’s not a good way to begin a season, down four players,” Birmingham said.
On the team’s annual August trip to Florida, which many parents also attend, the team brought 16 players, and each got equal playing time. Two of the players were freshman, and Birmingham said Dates objected to him taking them. Birmingham took the freshman anyway.
“It’s a way to assess what we have while also spreading out the playing time,” Bome said. He added: “We weren’t aware of the parents being upset in Florida. We just found out recently there were some who were upset.”
The coaches said parents started chirping in their ears because they felt the upperclassmen should be getting the playing time over freshman even if the younger player gives the team a better chance to win, Birmingham said Dates had come to him to voice the concerns parents were having about the issue. Birmingham said he told Dates that he will put on the field the team which gives the school the best shot at victory. He said Dates continued to put pressure on him to play the older kids.
Birmingham and his coaches say that goes against what the school stands for. They said that during a preseason meeting in March with the players, parents and coaches, Dates talked about how putting the team before the individual was the school’s top priority.
“That, to me, indicates the approach we needed to be taking,” Bome said. “And that’s what we did.”
“We have to put the best team out on the field to win,” Birmingham said. “The main communication is ‘team before self,’ and that’s on our jerseys and caps. That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
A parent of a player, who Birmingham declined to identify, had been upset about playing time, and continued to let that be known to Dates, according to Birmingham and his coaches. The coaches said this snowballed until it ultimately cost them their jobs.
The coaches explained how their players found out about what happened, which couldn’t be confirmed by the school, Tice or the players. Alford said he called one of the captains to let him know the following day was going to be “weird.”
The following day, Dates got together with the players without the coaches there and told them they all resigned.
“I feel like the kids got the impression we just quit on them,” Birmingham added.
Birmingham said that after a game against Skaneateles, Bome approached him and asked why he puts up with everything that goes on. Birmingham said he pointed to the field and said baseball is a beautiful game, citing the game that had just ended.
Dave Kelly, a school board member, confirmed the process the board went through after receiving the resignations.
“We talked in executive session and voted to accept the resignations,” he said.
Neil Benjamin Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.