Is Wright wrong?
The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael
Happier times: Andy Wright is being fired as the varsity basketball coach at Berne-Knox-Westerlo after 10 years at the helm. Here, Wright, left, and the Bulldogs celebrate with Garrett Pitcher (#33), who broke his grandfather’s scoring record during a game in Berne last winter. Wright says he’s being fired for no reason.
BERNE — While school board and district leaders remain mum, players on the boys’ basketball team here, and their parents, claim that favoritism has led to the coach’s dismissal.
However, some of the team’s top players have defended him.
Andy Wright is being fired from his varsity basketball coaching position at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, a post he’s held for 10 years. The 36-year-old father of five children, and social studies teacher at the district, says he hasn’t been given a legitimate reason.
The athletic director quit, saying he hadn’t been told Wright was being fired or why.
“This is deeply disturbing, saddening, and I’m hurt, very hurt,” Wright said last Friday. “They’ve got nothing, nothing; 10 years, nothing. It’s very, very sad to be standing here, being faced with separating my ways with coaching.”
Brian McCoy said school officials have discussed his filling Wright’s job.
McCoy, a BKW chemistry teacher who has been the junior-varsity coach under Wright for the last 10 years, said that he would prefer for Wright to keep the varsity post.
“I’m not sure if I would take the job; I don’t like how things are being handled,” said McCoy. “I’ve been with Andy for a long time, and he did a great job, all the right things. He was selfless, and helped me become a better coach. There’s no reason to fire him.”
Last winter, BKW had one of its best seasons under Wright, losing by three points to eventual Class C state champion Lake George. Over the last decade, Wright has seen eight former Bulldog players compete at the college level, including Nate Krimsky, who just accepted a scholarship at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.
“My position shouldn’t be something that’s being questioned; a decade of steadily maintaining a quality level,” said Wright. “This is my community, my home. I’ve seen administrators come and go; this is where I’m from, and this is where I’ll be.”
Three top administrators left BKW last year and the district is currently functioning under an interim superintendent.
Wright graduated from BKW, and played basketball for the Bulldogs.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, and I have the overwhelming support of the majority of people I’ve ever worked with,” Wright said. “Not only this year, but in the past. Overall, I’m a solid member of this staff as a coach and as a teacher.”
Three years ago, the administration gave Wright what he says was a “tip plan,” or a corrective set of guidelines to follow. “It was eight to 10 things, and I did them all,” he said. “There were no problems, no issues. I was never brought in for counsel, no memorandums, nothing.”
Wright says he has been professional, and has never used profanity in the locker room. He doesn’t feel like he could have coached any differently, and he saw what happened to Don Catellier in Voorheesville a few years ago; Catellier resigned after complaints about his abusive behavior towards his players as head coach for Voorheesville’s basketball team.
“That was a shot fired over the community,” Wright said. “You have to walk a very fine line of emotion, knowledge, and approach. If you don’t, you’re going to suffer at the hands of somebody else.”
Wright told The Enterprise that the parents and community know how much he cares about the kids. However, with any coach at any level, people aren’t always going to see eye to eye, he said.
“The program I teach, they know how much I care to have success,” said Wright. “Yeah, we want to win, but it’s more about the quality and character of the people I work with that propels me to do this — certain people aren’t seeing this.”
Tom Galvin, also a social studies teacher at BKW, as well as longtime coach of the girls’ basketball team, resigned as the district’s athletic director last Friday. He had no prior knowledge of Wright’s firing, he said, finding out at the same time as Wright and high school Principal Brian Corey when they sat down in a meeting with the interim superintendent Lonnie Palmer on Oct. 8.
Corey could not be reached for comment.
“As someone who is an athletic director, I should have had knowledge of the situation,” Galvin said last Friday. “I could disagree, but they’d still make the decision. At least, give me a clue. If they just want me to sit in an office, pushing pencils, that’s not me.”
Resigning as athletic director was a way for Galvin to support Wright, with whom he has shared a gym for the past 10 years. Galvin says that it is not easy, but coaches stick together.
“When you’re in that gym late at night, coaching, you run things off each other,” said Galvin, 41. “It would be silly to say that Andy and I haven’t gotten close; he’s a friend. They go through battles with you, and people don’t understand the time, the hours spent on coaching.”
Wright’s discharge has left Galvin miffed.
“They will lose someone who believes in them, believes in the Maroon and Gold, and someone who grew up here,” said Galvin. “He wants the best for everybody, win or lose. Yes, they’ll suffer.”
Galvin doesn’t know who gave the order to fire Wright. Every season, Galvin made coaching recommendations to the principal, who then shared those recommendations with the superintendent, and then the school board voted. This time, Palmer sat Galvin, Wright, and Corey down, saying that Wright wouldn’t be coaching; Palmer said he wanted to go in a “different direction,” Galvin said.
Wright would have been Galvin’s recommendation to coach varsity basketball this season, but, since he resigned, the proposal is out of his hands. Leonard Kies, the dean of students, has taken over as athletic director, Galvin said, and Kies will make the recommendations.
McCoy said yesterday that Kies and Corey had been discussing with him the possibility of his taking Wright’s varsity job.
“It could be me next, who knows,” said Galvin of his coaching position. “It’s a small group of people making powerful decisions.”
Palmer declined to comment on individual employees when asked whether Wright will continue as a basketball coach. He said recommendations forwarded by the acting athletic director, Kies, include openings for varsity, junior varsity, and seventh-grade boys’ basketball coaches.
Typically, Palmer said, the athletic director screens applicants for positions that are opened and reappointed every year.
“After he has determined who he wants to recommend to the board, that recommendation is made with input from the high-school principal, and onto the board for action,” said Palmer.
“I am not going to confirm what’s out there,” said Joan Adriance, president of the school board. “I am not going to deny what’s out there.”
Vasilios Lefkaditis, a board member and former board president, said there are no personal agendas at play in coach recommendations. “It’s not the board’s job to make recommendations,” he said.
Edward Repscher, a parent of a BKW athlete and a former modified basketball coach contacted by The Enterprise, said he believes Wright has good intentions, but that he has not demonstrated sportsmanship described in the school’s code of ethics by allowing specific students to play.
The lead on BKW’s Athletic Code of Conduct says, “Victory when possible, Integrity always.”
The document goes on to say, “Students should be aware that participation in the BKW athletic program is a privilege and not a right…to emphasize the proper ideals of sportsmanship, ethical conduct and fair play…To remember that an athletic contest is only a game – not a matter of life and death for player, coach, school, official, fan or community member…Learn and understand the rules of your sport. Play hard; play to win, but play fairly within the rules.”
Under the Team Standards section of the code, it says that players should “demonstrate constant effort to improve.”
Beneath the Varsity Sports Philosphy, the code states: Winning is a natural goal in sports. Our teams will strive to win, but we will measure success in criteria that transcends winning and losing. Attributes like effort, determination, improvement, respect for coaches and teammates, respect for officials and learning to win with grace and lose with dignity will characterize our sports programs. Winning is emphasized more strongly at the varsity levels within the framework of healthy competition. Winning remains a goal at the sub- varsity level but is subordinate to participation and skill development.
“The intent of this section is to help improve communication between parents, coaches and administrators for the ultimate benefit of the student athlete,” says the Communication of Athletic Concerns section of the code. “Involvement in extracurricular activities allows student athletes to experience some of the most rewarding times of their lives. There may be moments, however, when things do not go their way or they disagree with a coach. This is also true for parents. It is important that students and parents realize that difficult situations are as much a part of the learning process as the good times. Students and parents are often unaware of the basis behind a coach’s decision.”
The code says that “team strategy” and “play calling” aren’t appropriate issues to speak with a coach about. This could include playing time of individual players, which is not guaranteed at the varsity level.
“Here, it just seems like, if the coach likes you, they'll play you,” said Repscher. He went on about Wright, “The coach made some comments, ‘Garrett [Pitcher] is not coming out until he makes his 1,000 points.’”
Pitcher, who now attends Hudson Valley Community College, playing basketball, set the record for most career points scored by a male BKW player, passing his grandfather, Ted Pitcher, last winter.
“It should be almost like an intramural,” said Repscher. “Up in the Hilltowns, there’s no star. I truly believe that, but, I mean, you’ve got 15 kids on the team. Would you rather have the 15 kids on the team have a positive experience than a winning season? You’re talking kids.”
Jennifer Gibbs’s son, Kyle, played for Wright for two years. When contacted by The Enterprise, Mrs. Gibbs said that she and her family do not support Wright.
“He needs better education with basketball,” said Gibbs of Wright. “Certain things that he does don’t make sense, like, if you’re ahead by 30 points, you rotate the players, right? He had an awesome bench, so he could have played them more.”
Pitcher doesn’t understand why his “favorite coach” is getting canned, but he would be very upset if it had to do with playing time, he said.
During his freshman year, and first season playing varsity, Pitcher came off of the bench. “I respected that; you have to work hard for minutes,” he said. “What does the school want? It would take away from the team if everyone played equal time; some players are better than others. If everyone had equal time, there would be nothing to work for.”
While Pitcher was going for the scoring record last season, he said he never heard anything negative from his teammates, at least not to his face. Pitcher had a great shot selection, routinely passed the ball, and played aggressive defense.
“I never thought of myself as selfish or anything; I didn’t force shots,” said Pitcher. “It wasn’t my intention to make people upset.”
McCoy is aware that varsity players aren’t guaranteed playing time, but has no facts when it comes to Wright. “I would be surprised if that’s why they’re firing him,” McCoy said. “Coaches try to win games, and they play the kids that deserve to be played.”
Pitcher says that Wright helped him with basketball since he was in first grade, and gave many kids the opportunity to play the sport.
“He’s a great coach, a great person, and you want to be around him,” said Pitcher. “He does everything he’s asked to do, and more. He’s easy to talk to, the best coach ever.”
Over the last decade, Wright has held camps and fund-raisers for basketball. He owns Upstate Scouting Service, which surveys high school basketball talent throughout New York State.
Pitcher says he’s contacting the school board; he thinks the community at large should decide Wright’s future.
“It’s not right — so surprising; he’s done nothing negative,” said Pitcher. “It’s crazy; I had a debate about this with my family, and we tried to find reasons for this, but we couldn’t understand.”
Maclin Norray, a senior at BKW who would probably start for the basketball team this year, said he would play for another coach, but it wouldn’t be the same.
“It’s a bad time,” Norray said. “I haven’t seen a more dedicated coach; I love the guy. He lives and breathes basketball, and puts everything he has into coaching. It’s upsetting.”
Wright would use some negative reinforcement sometimes, Norray said, but added, “That isn’t bad, it puts your head in the right place.”
Noreen Shunney, assistant to the superintendent, said that recommendations for varsity, junior-varsity, and modified basketball coaches at BKW is on the agenda for the Oct. 21 school board meeting. Wright says he has a lot of support, and is hoping for reinstatement.
“The community would have spoken,” said Wright. ‘We are not a country, a state, a town, or whatever; we are a place that, if there’s damning evidence against you, you have the right to be judged by peers. It has to be the majority consensus.”
Wright would coach for the kids, the players, who he says are upset with the matter. He suspects “ulterior motives” for his firing, like playing time.
“We’re trying to win games, put a squad together,” said Wright. “Some kid is not getting a shot, that’s what it comes down to; we’ve all been there. Life doesn’t hand you everything you want, and you’re not always going to get what you want. Sometimes, not at all, but you have to deal. It’s a microcosm, the greater picture.”
It would have been a pleasure to step down from coaching BKW on his own terms, Wright said. There’s a world of opportunity out there, but he’s not finished as the Bulldogs’ coach, he said.
“If there’s a few unhappy people, I’m sorry, and I’ll apologize to you personally,” Wright concluded. “But, they’re making it everyone’s problem, and it’s hurting the kids.”
— Marcello Iaia contributed comments based on interviews with Lonnie Palmer, Joan Adriance, Vasilios Lefkaditis, and Edward Repscher.