KEYSER - Despite pleas from three students, the Mineral County Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to ratify the suspension of Keyser High School's boys' cross country coach.

By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Despite pleas from three students, the Mineral County Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to ratify the suspension of Keyser High School’s boys’ cross country coach.
Student athletes Connor DelSignore, Darius Redman,  and Dakota Virts took turns speaking to the board Tuesday, testifying to the positive influence coach Tammy Hart-Smith has had on them and their running careers.
Hart-Smith was placed on administrative leave with pay in September while an investigation is conducted into allegations that she had treated some of the cross country team members unfairly.
In the meantime, girls’ cross country coach Kurtis Wildman was placed in charge of both teams.
DelSignore, the team captain, told the board he felt it has been unfair to both Wildman and the athletes to expect him to coach both teams.
“The boys have not been able to get the same attention,” DelSignore said, adding that Hart-Smith had been a great motivator for him to improve his times in the past, but without her in place, that motivation has diminished.
 “I, as well as others, have just wanted to quit,” he said.
Redman said Hart-Smith’s absence has also impacted him.
“The whole situation of not having her as coach has been a major setback to me,” he said, adding that he had hoped to improve his skills as he progressed into a college career.
The situation has also affected the upcoming athletes, he said.
“The younger runners look up to us and when they see we’re losing motivation, they lose motivation as well,” he said.
Dakota Virts told the board that he feels losing their coach has eliminated their chances to do well at state competition.
“I’ve lost motivation to run and so have my teammates,” he said.
Bill Ack also spoke to the board, but his plea was for the suspension to continue.
“My son’s one of the ones affected what what coach Tammy did,” he said, explaining that, while his son loves to run, he “was not going to be one of her star athletes.
“Because he wasn’t on the same page, he was ridiculed by the coach.”
According to Ack, “four to five other parents who aren’t here tonight … their kids aren’t on the team any  more either.”
Parent Barbara Henderson took the other viewpoint, however.
“She teaches everyone on the team. It doesn’t matter if you’re last or you’re first on the team. … Tammy is a coach. She is not their parents. She wants them to do their best.
“I think this became a personal thing and it has affected these boys. They had the potential to be state runners this year.”
Henderson also asked the board why the investigation so far has only resulted in one or two people being questioned about the allegations.
None of the board members commented on the statements, but when they came to the item on the agenda to ratify Hart-Smith’s suspension, Terry Puffinburger made a motion to ratify and Rob Woy seconded it.
Tom Denne then made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the issue, and Woy seconded it.
Following the closed door session which lasted approximately 15 minutes, the board approved the administrative suspension with pay 4-0.
Board president Lara Courrier, who is related by marriage to the Ack family, abstained from voting.
Hart-Smith’s suspension will continue through the remainder of the school year, pending the outcome of the investigation.