Sunday, April 20, 2014

Going To The Mat

Update 4-26-14: I heard a rumor late last week that Coach Maida would be reinstated as wrestling coach soon. This morning a text was received by those in the wrestling program indicating that this was indeed the case. My understanding is that the decision to relieve Maida in the first place may have been unilaterally made and that protocols will be put in place to ensure that such decisions in the future are reviewed and approved by more than one individual.
To parents with kids in Methacton School District’s wrestling program, a mystery began a couple of weeks ago on April 3, when a cryptic email landed in their inboxes.

“I’m writing to inform you that as of Tuesday morning this week [this would have occurred on 4/1/14] I have been told that because I no longer fit with the high school principal’s [Judy Landis] philosophy of coaching I will not be retained as the wrestling coach at Methacton High School effective Monday, April 7th. I appealed to the Superintendent [David Zerbe] Tuesday afternoon and met again with him yesterday where he indicated that he would support the principal’s decision. I would expect that the school board goes along with the superintendent’s recommendation. While this ends my tenure as your son’s coach I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your children’s lives over the last 7 seasons. Over the past several years I’ve made some incredible relationships with some amazing families and have probably learned more from you and your children than your kids ever have from me.
I’m actually not sure how to end this email so I’ll just say that I hope you all understand what this job has meant to me both personally and professionally and that my one desire would be to continue coaching at Methacton with the family that I think we’ve made together.
            A.J. Maida”

Shortly thereafter, I received emails from several parents asking what on earth happened, and, given Methacton’s propensity for scandal in recent years, you can’t blame them for wondering whether there was a more disturbing undercurrent that they should be aware of. 
Ever since receiving the parting email from Maida, frustrated members of the Methacton wrestling program and their parents have been left scratching their heads and asking unanswered questions of the school district as to what happened…why was this clearly beloved coach unceremoniously and inexplicably dumped after 7 seasons that were by all accounts successes both on and off the mat?
Anthony (AJ) Maida, center (2011)
How is it possible that a coach parents tell me embodies the very traits one hopes to find in all those people our kids spend hours with each week, is removed from coaching? 
For decades, Methacton has had an enviable and venerable wrestling program. From the storied accomplishments of Bill Berardelli, Dennis Kellon, to late coach Nelson Stratton, Chris Lloyd, Tony Haley and Bill Moser, Maida, a veteran of the US Armed Services (Marines), seemed well-suited to the wrestling program’s long history of success, and competently filled the big shoes that our former wrestling coaches left as their legacy.  To bear witness to that, 48 of those students and fellow coaches stood up and testified in front of the school board at their April 15 meeting as to just what an impact he’d had on their lives and what wrestling for him had meant to them. I know there were more who either couldn’t be there that evening or were afraid to speak up (employees of the school district).
Maida supporters speaking at 4/15/14 school board meeting
My understanding is the school board has only heard one side of the issue, after the fact, although clearly the superintendent has heard both. But the school board appears unswayed and unlikely to investigate, revisit or reverse the decision to remove Maida from his coaching position.
What I’d like to know is what exactly is this ‘philosophy of coaching’ that principal Judy Landis has, and in what way doesn’t Maida measure up? Has her philosophy evolved or has Coach Maida such that he ‘no longer fits’?  It seems a little odd to me that a high school principal would even have a coaching philosophy, but if so, shouldn’t that be public?
MHS principal Judy Landis
When I called the school district to get answers for the parents who reached out to me I was handed off to the Athletic Director (Paul Spiewak) for response. It wasn’t Spiewak’s decision, so why would anybody want to talk to him about it? I couldn’t find this ‘philosophy of coaching’ anywhere on Methacton’s website, so I put in a Right-to-Know request to see if we can shed any light on it. It might be helpful for all our current, as well as future, coaches to be aware of, not to mention the parents and kids struggling to understand what went wrong here.
Of course, it might have just been damage control at the April 15 meeting when Zerbe stated “Any conflict of personality or philosophical differences between Maida and Landis are unfounded and not the reason for opening the position”. Maybe, but evidently that’s not how it was explained to Maida.
One of my son’s closest friends wrestled for Coach Maida. He told us that an example of how Coach Maida cared enough about the kids and the program was that if the boys couldn’t get a ride to school for an early morning lifting session before school he’d pick them up and get them there. We all know teenagers aren’t famous for being early risers, but these kids WANTED to get up early to become better wrestlers and athletes for this coach, in this program. Coach Maida knew how to motivate them and get the best out of them. He even went out of his way to work with the middle school kids, ensuring a good pipeline of talent flowing into the high school program.  

This is a road Methacton has gone down before, with similar backlash. In 2006, longtime and charismatic football coach George Marinkov was unceremoniously replaced by Coach Bob McNally. Granted, the Warriors had several back-to-back losing seasons and Marinkov was replaced after a winless year, but the football players and parents circled the wagons in support of “Coach” much as they have for Maida. The McNally experiment didn’t net much on-field success, and he stepped down after 4 seasons with an overall record of 11-33. Coach was – and is - also the kind of guy who took a genuine and sincere interest in his players on and off the field and prided himself on treating them like the young men they were becoming (Coach has been back on the sidelines with current head football coach Paul Lepre and the coaching staff since 2010).  In contrast, in the 7 years Maida has coached Methacton wrestling they’ve gone without a losing record.  

I’ll tell you what I think our ‘philosophy of coaching’ should be. It should involve finding and supporting coaches who are paying attention to what is going on with our kids outside of school as well as during the time they are IN school, and it should go without saying that it should be about more than just a paycheck to them. Ideally, they’ll have a passion for the sport they coach, and some expertise in it, but it should always be – to the coach as well as the school district – about more than just wins and losses and what goes in the trophy case. I’d argue one learns more from losses than from wins anyway. A good coach can motivate kids to find the keys to leadership and success as well as how to pick oneself up, make corrections, and keep going in the face of defeat. A good coach inspires accountability, dedication and commitment…self-esteem, discipline, work ethic, teamwork….the list goes on. It would seem we’ve lost this and more with the removal of Maida as our wrestling coach. 

If Maida truly has no idea why he was relieved of duty, instead of smoke and mirrors, I think the school district owes him an honest answer as much as they do the wrestling team’s parents. I get it that personnel matters are often kept private, largely for liability reasons, and perhaps they could cite these specific “laws surrounding school personnel” they claim muzzles them so parents can determine the truth of that for themselves, but I don’t see why Maida couldn’t offer to waive his right to privacy in this matter and insist the school district be transparent as to their rationale. If it’s a sound decision, it should be defendable. 
Maida was not dismissed from his job teaching social studies at the high school, so whatever reason the school may have had to remove him from coaching can't be too egregious. My guess is if there is in fact no legitimate performance reason that more than likely, it’s political. Somebody knows somebody who wants the job.  It’s happened in this school district before (under Dr. Quinn, the prior superintendent), and unfortunately, it’s possible it’s happened again.  If true, that would truly be a big “L” for Methacton’s wrestling program as our loss will surely be another school district’s gain. Maida will coach another day, somewhere else, but in this instance, it looks like this is a match Methacton’s wrestlers cannot win.

1 comment:

AED Lodge said...

As part of Team Maida, I found your article to be well written and on the mark! Thank you!