Friday, August 7, 2009

Phoenixville Area School Board Fires Coaches

For several weeks I received numerous requests to investigate the rumors regarding this situation. Many stepped forward with their knowledge, but all were hesitant to go on record.



Friday, August 7, 2009

By Dennis J. Wright

PHOENIXVILLE — Before a highly emotional crowd of more than 100 people, the school board fired Phoenixville basketball coach Bill Detweiler and assistant basketball coach Ken Winston inside the high school's library Thursday evening.

The board approved a resolution by a vote of 8-0 with board President Mark Casaday absent to fire Detweiler and Winston for allegedly violating both the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and school district policies regarding conduct.

While the school violation wasn't specified to the public, the PIAA violation allegedly involves a situation in which a member of the basketball team was "encouraged to attend Phoenixville Area High School to play basketball," according to a letter from Phoenixville Interim Superintendent Barbara Burke-Stevenson to Rodney Stone, chairman, PIAA.

Copies of the letter were being circulated by members of the crowd Thursday night.

Members of the public questioned the board about their decision to fire the coaches while the PIAA investigation is ongoing. Resident Bruce MacLelland asked the board if the PIAA has ruled on this situation.

Board Vice President Lisa Starczewski responded that a letter was sent to the PIAA regarding the violations. "We asked for leniency and they responded," Starczewski said. "I don't know if they are having a hearing or not. It is up to them. They've made no determination. This is separate from them. It is up to us if they violated school code."

MacLelland told the board that he knows that the PIAA is having a hearing, and that could possibly reverse the board's decision this evening, which could lead to a potential lawsuit.

"We are acting on our own," Starczewski replied.

Resident John Lemming asked about the process that went into the hearings, and who recommended the arbitrator. "We're not discussing the process," Starczewski answered. "We cannot discuss this. No board members were at the hearings. They've reviewed the transcripts and exhibits provided to them."

When mentioned that Winston had the opportunity to pursue an attorney for his hearing, resident Sylvia Foreman said, "Kenny Winston did not have an attorney. I was going to give him $5,000. He asked for a continuation and they refused him."

Former Phoenixville basketball star Jon Crabtree asked the board if they think they would be making Phoenixville a better place if they fire Detweiler and Winston.

Burke-Stevenson responded, "I hear what you are saying. I don't know if it will be a better place. Rules and regulations will be followed while I'm here."

Crabtree asked, "Doesn't this warrant a warning or any other type of discipline?" to which Burke-Stevenson answered, "It is beyond that. We need to look at state laws. When they make poor decisions, I have to look at that. I truly believe that rules were broken and laws were broken."

Williams told the audience that both men "were given due process, and due process was followed."

Bruce MacLelland Jr. asked the board if the men were being fired because of the
PIAA, and then it became a school code violation.

"One was a PIAA violation," Starczewski answered. "The PIAA process and district process are separate. We are not going to get into specific details."

The alleged school code violation that both men are accused of involves cursing at players. "What about cursing?" MacLelland Jr. asked. "You mean to tell me that there isn't a coach out there that hasn't cursed at a player, to motivate them."

He said to Burke-Stevenson, "You even cursed in front of me recently. You said 'You are a damn fine superintendent', to which she responded, "I said 'Darn'."

MacLelland Jr. responded, "You said 'Damm.' You've just lied right in front of me."

Board member Paul Slaninka vehemently said to the audience, "I've coached for many years and not once did I curse at them. We are going to make a policy on that."

The crowd had begun gathering at the cafeteria entrance of the high school around 5:15 p.m., and found the doors to be locked. Interim business manager Bill Gretton was able to gain access into the building at 5:25 p.m., and upon reaching the library, found those doors to be locked as well.

After gaining entry into the library at the scheduled time of 5:30 p.m., no board members were present.

Once the crowd began setting up seats, the board members arrived inside the library around 5:41 p.m., with interim superintendent Burke-Stevenson and solicitor Ron Williams shortly behind at 5:50 p.m.

After hearing the public comment, Starczewski read the resolution regarding the termination of both Detweiler and Winston, stating that hearings for both were held on August 4, and they both were given the opportunity to provide witnesses and testimony. She stated that both failed to appear at their hearings, so private hearings were held instead.

Starczewski said that the school board was given transcripts and exhibits from the private hearings on August 5, and that each member had been given ample time to review.

After two consecutive 8-0 votes terminating the coaches, shouts of "Shame on you all" and "I'm embarrassed I voted for you" rang out from the audience.

Board member Jan Potts spoke out and said, "This last six months I hoped I never had to experience this. I took my oath seriously. You can think what you want. I read everything presented to me based on the exhibits. I did not take this lightly. I've had numerous sleepless nights over this."

One audience member told the board, "He opened up his home and he allowed this child to stay with him so he can start school. He didn't tell him to move to Phoenixville to play basketball. Ken has bent over backwards for everyone. He is such a fantastic member of this community. We came here to support him."

Starczewski replied, "I'm sorry you don't understand. There are rules about guardianship."

When asked by an audience member about any consideration given at the hearing regarding all of the good things Winston has done in Phoenixville, Williams said, "The transcript doesn't contain anything that Mr. Winston has done for the community. The transcript doesn't say that he's done ten good deeds."

Theresa Brewer said, "You've ruined a lot of lives tonight. I don't know how my son will handle going to school without Mr. Winston there. He looks up to him and pays attention to him."

Throughout the meeting, there were several instances of verbal sparring between board members and audience members. Board member Jill Slawecki broke out in tears and said to the audience, "When I took this oath, I swore to uphold the rules and regulations. Mr. Winston has been a tremendous help to my family. You don't know how hard this is. As a member of this board, it required me to do what I had to do."


Joe Rooney said...

Dennis. What did Mr. Winston do? You gave the reaction from the board and audience, but where are the relevant details relating to the charge?

Anonymous said...

I assumed the Witch Hunt was over. This Board needs to be totally replaced!

Ed Jones said...

It sure would be nice to have all the 'facts' so the general public could know if the firings were justified. Too many meetings of public officers are shaded by 'executive meetings' and 'personnel matters'. The firing of a 'public servent' should have all the facts available to the 'public'.

Ed Jones said...

OK - I withdraw my previous comment. A letter was published in today's Mercury with the 'facts'. And it looks like the player did in fact receive payment in the form of living quarters,etc. to play ball in Phoenixville. Seems to make him a professional. Looks like the school board may have done something right after all.

Anonymous said...

Maybe now they'll get a good coach. With the size players they've had (2 over 6'6"), you would think they'd win a lot more championships than they have. Maybe we could get a disgraced for NBA or college coach to come here much like Isiah Thomas did when he went to coach at FIU. Maybe one of Oklahoma's old coaches.

Anonymous said...

What some people seem to refuse to understand is that so many of these issues are private, personnel issues that employers/School Boards cannot reveal without violating the employees/exemployees privacy rights. To reveal all pertinent information would make those doing the firing ripe for law suits by those terminated, not for the termination but for revealing private, personnel information. It doesn't matter if you are a coach, teacher, principal, or superintendent. I don't understand why a lot of people insist on knowing these details when quite honestly, it often cannot be legally revealed and if it were the information could generate expensive lawsuits and destroy someones future career opportunities. Elect people you trust, feel free to give them your input, and then let them do the job you elected them to do. Sometimes they truly do have more information than you and need to respond to that information without revealing it.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean Mr Winston is fired from the Outreach Coordinator job or just the coaching job?

Anonymous said...

Dennis, what about the Athletic Director? Doesn't he have the ultimate responsibility?

Anonymous said...

The athletic director was let go.

Anonymous said...

If what has been published in letter form or as 'news' by the Mercury, it is an embarrassment and puts to question every record and performance standard that has been set since these two have been coaching. The school and the athletes that have represented Phoenixville should be angry. These coaches have brought everything to be questioned now.
Maybe this is why every time we heard about Mike Piazza he was always from Norristown and not Phoenixville.