BOILING SPRINGS — South Middleton School Board put a hold on wrestling coach Rodney Wright but did not count him out of the upcoming season.
The board Monday voted unanimously to reinstate Wright as head coach of the Boiling Springs High School team, but made the effective date of his appointment Jan. 1, 2014.
This means Wright will miss the first six weeks of a sport that starts preseason training in mid-November and has a regular season that runs through the end of January. Postseason wrestling continues into mid-March.
A full-time drivers’ education teacher, Wright was suspended from the classroom for much of the first marking period but will return on Monday, Oct. 14.
Wright was charged on April 11 with possession of drug paraphernalia after a police search of his home revealed a small wooden box and a stainless steel smoking pipe, both with the odor of marijuana.
Defense attorney Jay Abom said Monday that while Wright is being considered for participation in the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program for first-time offenders, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office has yet to make the motion for Wright to be accepted into the program.
Successful completion of conditions specified under the ARD would result in the dismissal of the paraphernalia charge and an expungement of Wright’s record, Abom said. “ARD does not involve any admission of guilt.”
Participation in the program is for a period of at least six months and could include such conditions as community service and drug and alcohol counseling, Abom said. “ARD is routine in a case such as this one.”
The board Monday approved a list of extra duty athletic positions for the winter season that included appointing Ryan Eby the interim head coach for wrestling for the first six weeks of the season. Eby will resume work as assistant varsity coach after Wright takes over as the head coach.
Prior to voting on the list, Board President Tom Merlie read a statement from Wright in which the coach apologized for the negative publicity his personal situation has brought toward the school district, the board, the administration, the parents, students, the wrestling program and team.
“This entire situation has added a great deal of stress to my family, my friends, the wrestlers and the parents for which I am greatly sorry,” Merlie quoted Wright. “Looking back on the situation, I wish I would have done a lot of things differently. I am looking forward to putting the situation behind us all and getting back to teaching and coaching.”
In a phone interview with The Sentinel prior to the meeting, Wright said he wished he could return to the head coach position at the beginning of the season, but added “that is not my decision.”
Wright was then asked about the discrepancy in the dates between when he is scheduled to return as a teacher and when he returns as head coach. “Why the delay is a good question,” Wright said. “I’d never really a got a clear sense.”
Hundreds of people flocked to the school board meeting in early September in a show of support to have Wright immediately reinstated as coach for the upcoming season. There were rumors circulating within the community that Wright’s name was being withheld from renewal on the roster of winter sports coaches.
The issue did not come up in school board meetings held later in September. Monday’s meeting was moved from the board room in the Iron Forge Educational Center to the high school auditorium in anticipation of a larger crowd.
Fewer people showed up Monday and no one in the audience said a word about Wright or his status as a coach during either of the two public comment periods.
Kim Hurley, Wright’s girlfriend, said that while supporters are disappointed the coach will miss the opening weeks of wrestling season, they were relieved that he would be back in January and was not dismissed for a full year.
Assistant coaches Eby and Trevor Byers will lead the program for the first six weeks and are familiar with the coaching style of Wright having worked with him for years, Hurley said.
“They are excellent coaches,” wrestling mom Lisa Vaughn said of Eby and Byers. “They will do a great job. They will be there to support the boys. That is going to mean a lot.” Vaughn said the absence of Wright in the opening weeks of the season could impact the Bubbler’s postseason prospects.
Wright will not be head coach during two tournaments that are very important to the Bubbler wrestling program — King of the Mountain and the Boiling Springs holiday tournament, Vaughn said. Both events draw college scouts.
There was concern among supporters over who the scouts would be able to call on the coaching staff to get the best information on the wrestling style of prospects. It was felt hearing it from head coach Wright would make a better impression.
“It’s apples and oranges,” Board President Merlie said when asked why Wright is being reinstated as a teacher in October, but would have to wait until early January to resume his duties as head coach.
“As a teacher, you have certain rights,” Merlie said. “Coaches are seasonal employees and have not rights to the job from one year to the next.”
The board Monday approved a memo of understanding involving a grievance that had been filed against the school district. Merlie would not elaborate on the contents of the memo except to say it involved the coaching roster for winter sports and that “it will allow us to move forward.”