KEYSER - Keyser High School's cross country coach has been reinstated following a months-long investigation into allegations of misconduct, and a group of parents expressed their disappointment Tuesday in the way the situation was handled.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Keyser High School’s cross country coach has been reinstated following a months-long investigation into allegations of misconduct, and a group of parents expressed their disappointment Tuesday in the way the situation was handled.
Coach Tammie Hart-Smith was placed on administrative leave with pay last September, after being accused of unfairly treating one of her runners.
In October, when the board members voted to ratify that suspension until the conclusion of an investigation into the allegations, three of Hart-Smith’s runners appeared before the board to support their coach and speak about the positive influence she has had on their athletic careers.
Connor DelSignore, Darius Redman and Dakota Virts all asked the board to reconsider the suspension and reinstate Hart-Smith so they could conclude the cross country season with her at the helm.
The board continued her suspension, however, and two of the runners - Redman and Virts - elected to sit out the state track meet in protest.
Subsequently, neither boy received his varsity letter for participating in the sport.
Tuesday, Keyser Middle School teacher and parent of a runner Mary Ridgel asked the board what she was supposed to tell her son or his fellow runners when they ask why they were punished for standing up for something they believe in.
“The boys all came through Keyser Middle School, where I am a teacher,” Ridgel said. “They did exactly as myself and other educators have taught them, which is to trust in the system.
“As we exit Black History Month, another lesson we taught them failed. Two of the runners exercised their rights to a peaceful protest … in standing up for their coach, both boys were withheld from receiving their letters. When I spoke to Mr. Dilly on Feb. 6, he said it was understood the boys had just quit the team … This whole situation has been mishandled,” she said.
Ridgel referred to a section in the KHS Student/Athlete handbook that states in order to be eligible to receive his or her varsity letter, a cross country athlete must participate in three-fourths of the scheduled meets.
According to Ridgel and other parents, the only meet Redman and Virts missed was the state meet they chose to sit out.
Ridgel went on to praise Hart-Smith.
“Coach Tammie Hart-Smith has been coaching for 20 years and she does it because she cares. Coach Hart-Smith doesn’t see race, gender or school teams; she sees athletes. Anyone who has attended any KHS track or cross country event can see this - she coaches everyone for the love of the sport.”
Student runner Dakota McNeely also spoke in praise of Coach Hart-Smith Tuesday, calling her a “great influence” on him and his athletic career.
“She was always there to cheer us on and help us get better,” he said, adding that the program was thrown into confusion when she was suspended.
Two parents present at the board meeting were upset that the board had not publicly acknowledged the coach’s reinstatement.
“All of this was put in the paper and now that she’s back coaching, nobody knows,” Barbara Henderson said. “Her character has been damaged.
“Coach Tammie deserves some consideration; some sort of acknowledgment.”
“It should have been acknowledged that the accusations were unfounded,” agreed JoAnn Pates-Mont, the grandmother of Dakota McNeely.
Henderson also said she felt the two students who spoke in support of their coach in October “stood up for what they believed in, and were punished for it.”
Coach Hart-Smith told the News Tribune Thursday that she was notified of her reinstatement via email on Feb. 18.
“I received no common courtesy in regards to telling me personally that I was reinstated,” she said.
According to Dilly, however, the board of education is prohibited from discussing cases involving specific employees, except for cases “when the board has to alter a person’s contract. For example, a disciplinary action such as a suspension or termination must be announced in open session because the action affects the employee’s contract.”
A simple reinstatement, however, does not.