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Friday, July 1, 2011

The skinny on Houthoofd...

Tribune reporter Traci Weisenbach did a nice job covering Thursday's board meeting at USA.
Here is her report.

SEBEWAING - Thursday night’s special meeting agenda for Unionville-Sebewaing Area Schools Board of Education had one item of business - the decision regarding whether the board should discontinue the employment of Lary Houthoofd, varsity softball coach, as recommended by the school administration.
However, the 80 to 90 people in attendance sat through about 6 ½ hours of testimony on both sides of the issue, similar to a court trial. The school district’s attorney and Houthoofd’s attorney asked questions of several witnesses in an effort to bring out the facts involved in the alleged misbehaviors of Houthoofd.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to uphold the administration’s recommendation. One board member - George Eurich - did not vote because he was one of the witnesses.
For about a month, people in the community wondered why then-high school Principal George Rierson and Athletic Director Mark Gainforth told Houthoofd on May 26 they were going to recommend that his contract with the district not be renewed. During Thursday’s meeting, audience members heard why, as four main topics of concern were addressed. They included mistreatment of student athletes, unacceptable poor sportsmanship, role modeling and communication, inappropriate treatment of staff and volunteers and inappropriate fundraising activity. Examples were given under each of these allegations.
Thursday night’s special meeting in open session was at the request of Houthoofd, who had been the head varsity softball coach for six years and had coached for other USA teams for a few years prior. He could’ve had the hearing in closed session.
In his opening and closing statements to the board, the school district’s attorney, David Revore, of Thrun Law Firm, said the evidence against Houthoofd was substantial and compelling and it should lead to a board decision to not continue his employment. Revore told the board Houthoofd is an at-will employee and could be terminated for any reason, as long as it’s not illegal. He said even though Houthoofd’s track record with the varsity softball team has been impressive, there have been other coaches with impressive track records who have been dismissed. He used former Indiana University coach Bobby Knight as an example.
Revore said Houthoofd was more concerned about winning games than being a positive role model, which is a huge issue.
“Should winning be the most important thing?” Revore asked.
He said the testimony given by the administrators was solid and trustworthy, even if the administrators didn’t always personally witness the alleged incidents. He said the administrators acted properly throughout the handling of the Houthoofd matter.
Houthoofd’s attorney, Phoebe Jacob Moore, of Caro, questioned the seriousness of the allegations and the timing of how everything unfolded in the past couple of months. She said the allegations did not rise to the determination that Houthoofd’s employment should be discontinued.
“We have a personality conflict — that’s why we’re here,” she said. “There is no just, valid, compelling reason to turn this program of success upside down.”
She also pointed out Houthoofd had no idea why Gainforth and Rierson told him they weren’t going to recommend that his employment continue. He didn’t know what he did wrong until just recently, and she felt the administration was grasping at straws at the last minute to try to find reasons to let him go.
During his testimony, Houthoofd said during the spring, he talked with Assistant Athletic Director Isaiah Gainforth and asked if there were any issues that he should be aware of regarding his coaching. He said he was told there were no issues.
“Then, a week and half later, I had the meeting with (Rierson and Mark Gainforth),” Houthoofd said, referring to the May 26 meeting. “I was given very vague reasons — bullying was mentioned.”
During questioning of the school witnesses, Moore pointed out that the testimony was simply hearsay and there was no written documentation about the various alleged wrongdoings. She said it appears these previous events only became an issue this spring, when the administrators were trying to find reasons to fire Houthoofd.
Moore, who provided the board with several support letters concerning Houthoofd, said she believes Houthoofd was treated differently than another coach, such as a football coach, would be treated. She said others in the athletic department have shown unsportsmanlike conduct, but nothing is done about that.
Revore reminded the board about policies regarding proper sportsmanship and conduct for coaches, and how the administration believed Houthoofd violated those policies. Moore also reminded the board of policies regarding annual evaluations, which were not done for Houthoofd, and a conflict of interest clause that she believed Eurich violated. She urged the board to follow its own policies.
Both attorneys also mentioned a written reprimand given to Houthoofd in February 2010 concerning the running up of scores. Revore said the reprimand, which stated Houthoofd showed lack of sportsmanship and insubordinate behavior, included a warning that further misconduct would lead to further discipline, up to dismissal. He said therefore Houthoofd should’ve known his job was on the line, but he still conducted himself in an unsportsmanlike manner, making bad decisions that reflected poorly on the district.
On the other hand, Moore said the February 2010 reprimand had nothing to do with the current matter at hand, and without an annual review, how was Houthoofd supposed to know what the administration wanted him to do differently. She said on that basis, the board should keep the coach, give him an evaluation and allow him an opportunity to fix issues the administration has.
On behalf of the school administration, the following witnesses took the stand: former Superintendent Dr. Kip Walker (whose last day with the district was Thursday), Rierson, Gainforth, Eurich and former volunteer coach Ralph Hoppe, whom Houthoofd let go in early June.
Other than Houthoofd, the witnesses called by Moore included scorebook keeper Kent Bush, summer softball league organizer Sue Jo Schaus and parent Scott Schaus, who also identified himself as Houthoofd’s brother-in-law.
Gainforth and Eurich spent the most time on the stand, as they were called multiple times regarding the allegations. Gainforth talked about concerns he had received from parents about how Houthoofd was treating softball players who also wanted to participate in track. He said the girls felt intimidated by Houthoofd to make a choice and they told him their participation in track negatively affected their playing time and position on the softball team.
Gainforth said that this year Houthoofd had called him with a concern about a parent threatening him. He said he also received calls of concern from parents about Houthoofd. He said he looked into the concerns brought to him and this led to the decision to recommend that Houthoofd’s employment be discontinued.
Rierson said during the May 26 meeting with Houthoofd that he told the coach the school was looking to go in a different direction and the school had a different philosophy than Houthoofd had about coaching and sportsmanship.
“I told him he leaves people feeling like they’ve been run over or intimidated,” he said. “I told him this (behavior) might work well in his business, but not in working with students and parents.”
Testimony brought out numerous details of alleged misbehaviors (see sidebars), but Scott Schaus said he believes it all boils down to a lot of miscommunication.
“It’s a travesty,” Schaus said. “He’s now being chastised for fundraising, which the school had asked coaches to do. I’m not sure why anyone would want to fundraise for the school again after this.”
Schaus said Houthoofd’s coaching salary goes back into equipment for the softball program. He said he doubts the administration knew this.
During public comment, some former softball players and parents spoke out against Houthoofd, noting the allegations were true. They said Houthoofd doesn’t have respect for the players and many were afraid of being bullied by him. 
Several people also spoke in support of Houthoofd, including his daughter, Erica. She said her father was tough on her sometimes, but she appreciated that and learned from it.
“Everyone just needs to grow up and learn to apologize to one another,” she said.

USA softball: The confrontation between Houthoofd and Eurich
SEBEWAING — Quite a bit of time was spent during Thursday’s meeting discussing an incident that occurred May 23 between Lary Houthoofd and George Eurich, who served as a volunteer softball coach and is a school board member. According to testimony, Eurich was trying to get rid of water on the softball field when Houthoofd approached him and told him to stop what he was doing. Eurich, believing he wasn’t doing anything wrong, kept on.
Eurich testified that Houthoofd yelled loudly at him, within earshot of some of the softball players. He said he felt very disrespected and that the coach’s comments were unacceptable in a school setting.
Eurich ended up leaving the field, and he said that was a very tough decision for him to make because he cared about the program. That evening, at about 10 p.m., he contacted Mark Gainforth about the situation.
Houthoofd, in his testimony, said he didn’t want Eurich to continue what he was doing because it was bringing up water and causing the field to be unsafe for the players. He said he may have raised his voice a little, but he didn’t scream. He also said there were no student athletes in the area at the time.
Scorebook keeper Kent Bush, who was a witness to the incident, said Houthoofd didn’t raise his voice very much. He said that earlier he had been raking and Houthoofd told him to stop, and he did.
Houthoofd said that after the incident he told Isaiah Gainforth about the situation, only because it seemed like Eurich was very upset about it.
Houthoofd’s attorney, Phoebe Jacob Moore, told Eurich if he didn’t stop what he was doing after Houthoofd told him to that would be insubordination. Eurich said he disagreed.
Moore asked Eurich if he spoke to other board members about the situation after it happened. Eurich said he didn’t recall if he did. The attorney then asked if he spoke to board members about it after he knew an investigation had started. Eurich said he did. Moore said this was a conflict of interest and he shouldn’t have spoken about it to the board once he knew the investigation had started.
During her questioning of Houthoofd, Moore asked if he understood what he was up against, considering that the confrontation was with a board member, and the final decision regarding his employment rests with the remainder of the board.
“Do you know what you’re facing?” she said.
Moore asked what Houthoofd would do in a situation where his softball team was losing a game and there wasn’t much time left.
“You just give it your best shot,” he said.

OTHER ALLEGATIONS
In addition to the Houthoofd/Eurich incident on May 23, here are some of the other allegations against Houthoofd that were addressed during Thursday night’s special board meeting, along with Houthoofd’s responses:
• Houthoofd had a former USA employee, who has a felony conviction, work as a volunteer at the Haunted Woods fundraiser in the fall of 2010 — an event that some USA students attended. It was alleged that Houthoofd knowingly put students in danger by having the former employee there.
Houthoofd said he believed the former employee had served his time and he had this person working for him in his construction business. He said the USA students were never in any harm. He also said he had spoken with the former employee’s parole officer, and the fundraiser volunteering was considered community service.
• Houthoofd mistreated student athletes by intimidating them in various ways.
“I’ve never mistreated student athletes,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into these kids. They respect me and I respect them. They work extremely hard.”
• Houthoofd knowingly used two over-age players during a 2010 summer league sanctioned tournament in Romeo.
Houthoofd, along with summer softball league organizer Sue Jo Schaus, testified the summer league tournament director allowed the two over-age players to participate, and Houthoofd had nothing to do with the decision.
• Houthoofd purposely did not present some bats for inspection by umpires, thereby making the bats illegal to use.
“All of the bats we use are legal — I’ve never used an improper bat,” Houthoofd said.
• Houthoofd fired Ralph Hoppe, a volunteer assistant coach, without informing the athletic director first, which constitutes insubordination.
Houthoofd said he believed he had good reason to let Hoppe go, because he could no longer trust him. He said Isaiah Gainforth, whom he reported directly to, never told him he couldn’t fire someone without prior authorization. He also said Mark Gainforth never told him this, either. Houthoofd also said he did not fire any junior varsity softball coaches, which also had been alleged.
• Houthoofd argued with an umpire and used profanity that included a religious element as the game was against a Lutheran school.
Houthoofd said while he may have swore at the umpire, he did not use the “F word” and he did not say anything negative about Lutherans as he is a Lutheran.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, are the USA school administration and the school board actually adults, or little whining children??? These allegations against coach Lary seem pretty ticky-tacky in nature and quite juvenile. Junior high like, would be a more accurate description of their behavior.

Hold your head high coach Lary and tell them to stick it! You are probably the most successful high school coach in Michigan high school athletic history, and by far the most successful coach USA has ever seen, and certainly will ever see again.

Keep your pride and your dignity intact, and don't try to fight the school board and administrations obvious cronyism! You're too good for these people, and they don't deserve a coach of your caliber! Let them go back to their losing ways and see how they like that "sportmansship"!!!!

Anonymous said...

It always someone elses fault. Seems like there are some good grounds here. I did not realize that bullyiny is effective in the construction business. My contractor does not bully me

Bodeen said...

Man this stinks to high heaven. There is a personal issue here and it seems to lie with the Gainforths. INTIMIDATION of the student athletes???? Please, I coach high school cross country athletes, both male and female and I intimidate them because I am an adult and I am the coach. I am tough, I'm loud, I push but I also am caring, interpersonal ie their goals beyond running and I talk to parents their parents as well. DISRESPECTED??? Telling someone something in a loud voice that what they are doing is wrong is not disrespecting. Eurich was the assistant volunteer coach, under direction of Houthoofd, not Houthoofd's boss. He should have said yes sir and then discussed the situation after the game. Not sit and stew then whine to Gainsforth. Be a stand up person. My number one goal with my kids is safety. Anything that gets between my athletes that could jeopordize their safety gets BLASTED IMMEDIATELY. I will however, have another converastion with that person to make sure there is an understanding for the action. OVER-AGE PLAYERS IN SUMMER LEAGUE???. Was Sue Jo Schaus at the hearing and provide her testimony as to what actually happended? ILLEGAL BATS? Houthoofd claims all the bats are legal. Were there any Michigan softball officials there to prove otherwise that they were not legal and did any umpires from any umpired games testify as to the illegality of any of those bats in question? And if a bat is illegal, are the umpires not trained to spot and illegal bat? Sounds like a personal issue here. ILLEGAL FIRING?? Houthoofd must have signed a contract to coach. Was there anything in that contract that specifically stated that the coach could not fire anyone the way he did? Was there anything specifically in the USA rules of conduct that spelled out specifically what could and couldn't be done. I don't want to hear about Houthoofd should have done this or he didn't follow "unstated protocal". If there are no stated specifics, this seems to be a legal avenue for Houthoofd. PROFANITY? I don't go along with profanity but ONE instance???? Seems like a community service opportunity for the school district instead of a firing.
Bottom line. Look for a Gainforth or a friend to take the program over. Like I said, small minds dictate personal agendas. Yeah winning is always important especially when it reaches the level of USA softball. And the parents of the program and their opinions? Sounds like they don't matter when it comes to the important stuff like running the personal agendas at a school. Good luck to the community though in keeping the hard work of a dedicated coach, a successful coach and dedicated players and parents.

Anonymous said...

well said,

Anonymous said...

Questions for USA. How is Mark's son allowed to coach after he was arrested for drunk and disorderly, hitting his girlfriend and resisting arrest last summer in Caseville? Why does Hoppe still have contact with kids when he spent a night in jail with a DUI? How does Eurich continue to be on the Board when he allowed Hoppe to coach basketball and softball knowing that he had a DUI? How does Gainforth keep both his AD and basketball job when he conducts illegal practices, has been the only coach to get kicked out of games and have to serve a suspention, mistreats players until they quit or kick kids off the team because they go on family vacations and acts like a fool during most games to officals when he doesn't get his way. Bohn swearing (F word) at other coaches from Reese during games. Is this what USA wants from their coaches? Seems like all the above people should resign because now that USA has such high moral standards I'm sure that the school board will get rid of them. Or will they keep their jobs because they are Gainforth's friends or family? This will be interesting.

Anonymous said...

so its not over,

Anonymous said...

Interesting, maybe the school board should be recalled. If there is enough community support this should be no problem. From my observation there was alot of support for coach Larry early on, however as time has gone on most of his supporters are his immediate and extended family. I think it was quoted that the coach wanted to clear up his name, from reading the article I think he would have been better off not having the meeting in a open forum. Just my opinion

Anonymous said...

Question: If one of his assistants was arrested for a DUI and he allowed him to continue would that not be part of the coaches issue or is that the reason Hoppe was fired

Anonymous said...

A lot to comment on here. If what is posted above about Isaiah and Hoppe are true, then Rierson should be gone, and the school board should be recalled. If they fired Houthoofd for the undocumented hearsay referenced at the meeting, which may or may not been true, then they certainly should have fired Isaiah and Hoppe if they have been convicted of the above charges. If they were only charged, or if these allegations are false and/or they were absolved, then it is a moot point. I have no information regarding the veracity of these allegations. Maybe other readers can confirm or refute them. I do question the competence of the USA administration for not documenting the claims against Houthoofd as they occurred. That is an incredible level of oversight, and frankly, incompetence, for professional administrators. I like Mark, and he has been a good basketball coach and athletic director, but he did get suspended this year for unsportsmanlike conduct, so his treatment of Mr. Houthoofd seems ironic at best, hypocritical at worst.
The real concern here, though, is the lack of professionalism shown by Rierson and the school board. I don't know if any lawyers read these comments, but does anyone know the legal ramifications of firing a 6+ year employee without having conducted annual performance evaluations, when to do so is school policy? It is, at the very least, unethical. As a manager, I would never do that, even though the workers I supervise are not unionized, simply because I would consider it unfair, unethical, and indicative of poor support and management on my part, if I did so.
The other disturbing issue is that a member of the school board, Mr. Eurich, thinks that it was not insubordinate, and was justified, to defy the directions of his boss. Is he that obtuse and arrogant? To compound the severity of this mistake on his part, he himself claims that this occurred in front of student/athletes. If so, does he realize that he role modeled for them that it is permissible to directly defy your bosses directions? As a member of the school board? I live out of the area, but as graduate of USA, someone who behaves in such a manner in front of students simply can not be permitted to continue on the school board.

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that we cant forget is the coach did not get fired. The school choose not sign a new contract with him. There is a difference there. He would be considered at will employee. This may not have een ethical, however nothing illigeal was done.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like your legal knowledge is greater than mine. From a labor relations persepective though, even if an employee is at will, when an employer does not follow their own policy, does their not following policy then become a legal issue?

Anonymous said...

I dont think he was fired, he was not offered a renewal on his contract. That would be the reason they are one year agreements. They choose to not offer him a new contract. I don't beleive he has any protection under the union. Also, if the school attorney felt that it was a liability to not renew he would have advised the school otherwise. Fact of the matter is there are some who are going to miss him and support him, however one year from now no one will care. This sad but this is how things go