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Norton residents voice support for coach

4/20/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Scott Piepho

Controversy over the Norton High School varsity boys basketball coach dominated much of the April 17 Norton City Schools Board of Education meeting.

Supporters of coach Rod Swartz gathered at the school entrance well before the meeting bearing signs that demanded his retention.

Swartz was notified that Superintendent David Dunn will not recommend he receive a supplemental contract to coach basketball next year, according to Treasurer Stephanie Hagenbush. She said Norton’s coaches are employed using year-to-year supplemental contracts. Each of those contracts is terminated at the end of the school year, then a new contract may be offered for the next school year.

Once the doors to the Panther Room opened, it filled to near capacity, as sign-waving supporters filled the seats and lined the back and sides of the room.

Board President Jason Sams assured the crowd they were monitoring attendance to remain within the capacity for the room.

Six people each signed up for 5-minute slots each during the public participation portion of the meeting to speak on behalf of Swartz. Board rules allow for 30 minutes of public participation per meeting.

One of the individuals who had signed up, John Ventura, yielded his spot so that Swartz could address the board.

During public participation, the board heard from Curtis Fox, a resident and small business owner whose sons play basketball; Mike Plouse, a recent graduate and former basketball player; Terri McGlone, whose three sons played for Swartz; Matthew Kersten, one of Swartz’s assistant coaches; and Haley Green, a Norton cheerleader who also took a physical education class from Swartz and operated clocks during practice.

The speakers objected to the process that led to the decision against recommending Swartz and defended his coaching style. Fox argued that any problems should have been resolved between players, the coach and perhaps Athletic Director Don Shimek.

Speakers described Swartz as a tough, demanding coach, but one who also cares for his players. They specifically denied that he was bullying or abusive.

More than one speaker blamed the controversy on a sense of entitlement on the part of some parents.

Speakers supporting Swartz also said other coaches in the basketball program would resign.

Hagenbush said she heard that might happen, but it would not be clear if that will be the case until it was time to offer the supplemental contracts.

Swartz, who also coaches baseball, addressed the board in his baseball uniform, having just come from a game.

“I am not that psycho, that bully or that monster that a few have portrayed me to be,” he said.

He said that over the 25 years he has worked in Norton City Schools, he has adjusted to the changes in parents and students “that society has created.”

After calling the decision “unjust,” Swartz closed his remarks by saying, “Go Panthers,” and received an ovation that brought many of those who had found seats to their feet.

After Swartz’s remarks, the board took a recess.

One member of the crowd, Bill Long, who works as a substitute bus driver, attempted to address the board, but was told the board would not exceed the 30 minutes set by board policy. Denied the public participation lectern, he addressed the crowd during the recess.

According to board member Cindy Webel, the opening for the boys basketball head coach position has been posted. Both Hagenbush and Webel expect incoming Superintendent Dana Addis to be involved in the search for a new coach.

After the meeting, Dunn declined to comment about his reasons for not recommending Swartz’s continuation as coach.

In other business, the board:

  • accepted the retirements of education assistant Debbie Strefeler and bus driver Randy Schoenly;
  • approved limited contract renewals for four staff members at Cornerstone Elementary, nine at Grill Elementary, 16 at the high school, nine at the middle school and five at the primary school;
  • approved as substitute personnel Rex Crane, Billie Fox, Matthew Gradyan and Joseph Prezenkowski;
  • approved a recommendation to provide a kindergarten readiness program in collaboration with Johnson’s Corners’ Preschool, which includes hiring one to five teachers, depending on the number of students. The board approved a list of four potential teachers who would be paid at the tutor rate: Rebecca Sankoe, Kathy Stephens, Melissa Anicas and Chelsy Phenney. The program will run on Wednesdays, June through August, and cost $20 per student, according to district officials;
  • approved compensation for five members of the Norton Professional Development Committee: Cindy Addis, David Dunn, Joyce Gerber, Renee Heston, and Jackie Mohseninia;
  • approved contracts with Northeast Ohio Network for Educational Technology Services to provide internet and internal broadband services;
  • approved handbooks for the middle school and high school for next school year;
  • heard that a tree planting to honor Kyle Richmond, a Norton student who was killed earlier this school year, will be held April 22 at 12:30 p.m. at the high school between the front entrance and the football field; and
  • accepted donation of a panther statute that will be located inside the stadium. According to district officials, the statue was funded through donations from the friends and family of the Ranier family, sculptor Virgil Villers and the Panther Parents Athletic Booster Club.

The board’s next regular meeting is May 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Panther Room at Norton Middle School, 4108 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road.

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