SEBEWAING — The recent non-renewal of Unionville-Sebewaing Area varsity softball coach Lary Houthoofd’s contract for the 2012 spring season incited an outcry from many in the community. During the regular USA board of education meeting Monday, about 60 to 70 people attended and several spoke in support of the embattled coach.
“(People’s) support is fundamentally based on a respect for a coach who has built this program into a perennial super power in girls high school softball,” said community member John Neuman. “His overall record includes 227 wins against only 26 losses. His teams have won three state championships, six regional titles, six district titles and has won or tied for the league title every year. ... But the support for Coach Lary is because of much more than this winning record. Anyone that really knows Lary knows that deep down, he would do anything to help make his players grow and develop into better players. His commitment to the program in the amount of time, energy, passion and effort is unquestionable. ... His players play hard for him, respect him and know if they follow his instruction he will lead the team to success.
“What more can you really ask of a coach?”
Some of the softball players also spoke in support of their beloved coach, including a tearful Jessica Gremel.
“I have more respect for him than any other coach. ... I don’t want to be with any other coach in my senior year (next year),” Gremel said. “I don’t know what’s all happening (here).”
Superintendent Dr. Kip Walker said the non-renewal of Houthoofd’s contract is “probably not official.” The recommendation came from high school Principal George Rierson and Athletic Director Mark Gainforth in late May. Many parents already have met with Rierson, Gainforth and Walker about the situation.
Walker noted Houthoofd was not fired, because if he had been, he would’ve been done coaching immediately, rather than being allowed to finish out the season.
Many in the audience were hoping for the board to bring some closure to the issue, but Board President Lori Kemp said the board was not making any decision about Houthoofd’s contract at Monday’s meeting. She said the board, however, was interested in gathering public input on the issue.
“We know this is a difficult situation,” Kemp said. “We have listened to your comments and have taken them to heart. We all have the same goal in mind — to do what’s best for all of our students.”
Walker said the next step is to have the school administration meet with Houthoofd and his attorney to list the specific reasons behind the non-renewal. At that time, Houthoofd and/or his attorney can respond to the allegations.
After the meeting with administration, the school district attorney will make a recommendation to the school board, Walker said. He will recommend one of three things — no action, a decision to reverse the non-renewal and keep Houthoofd or a decision to uphold the administration’s recommendation for non-renewal.
Also after the meeting with administration, which has yet to be scheduled, Houthoofd would have the opportunity to take the matter to the school board. He would be able to choose between having an open or closed session.
When audience members asked Walker to name the reasons behind the contract non-renewal, Walker said by law he could not name them. He said people need to get that information from Houthoofd, if the coach is willing to share the information.