The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

May 8, 2012

Ryan out at Lakeside

Wrestling coach non-renewed after 3 seasons at the helm

In March, Pat Ryan was celebrating the fact he had taken two Lakeside wrestlers to Columbus for the state tournament. In April, Ryan was left wondering why he is no longer the Dragons’ coach.

Ryan was non-renewed by Lakeside administration after three years as head of the program. He had compiled a 34-39-1 record (.466).

“And wrestling the schedule we wrestled was by no means a simple task,” Ryan said.

Though his teams were just shy of a .500 winning percentage, Ryan had reason to believe it soon would be on the winning end of things.

“The team was heading in the right direction,” Ryan said. “We got some guys down to state. I thought we were going the right way. Now, the kids are upset. All I can do is re-apply.

“We ended up 20th at district. I thought that was pretty darn good. We wrestled, arguably, the toughest schedule the school has seen. I thought I did right by the kids. I didn’t do anything that I deserved (to be non-renewed for) and I don’t think they should have notified me in a phone call.”

Winning, however, is not the first and foremost in Ryan’s mind. He wants to build strong character in his wrestlers.

“My goal was to get kids to state,” Ryan said. “That’s true for pretty much any team. My goal is to get them to be successful and working hard. I want them to not just be successful on the mat, but in the classroom, too.

“I want them to be good people, good teammates, and use (wrestling) as a springboard to get to college, and not even necessarily as a wrestler. We were in West Virginia and a coach asked me about a wrestler. He ended up being a football coach and asked me to pass his card to one of the guys.”

That will continue to be his goal, even though he no longer will be the wrestling coach.

“I still teach there,” Ryan said. “My primary reason for being there isn’t to coach. I am there to be an educator. Being a teacher is primary and the extracurricular is secondary.

“But if you have a good, strong athletic program, it helps you in education. I want the kids to be scholar-athletes, nit just dumb jocks. The discipline and drive you learn in sports can really help you in your occupation and in life.”

Which begs the question, why exactly was Ryan’s contract not renewed?

The short answer is Ashtabula Area City Schools did not give Ryan a reason. The district simply made a decision and carried it out.

To understand what exactly happened, we have to revisit the beginning of the saga with Ryan.

“I was in the parking lot of the Painesville Country Club, we were about to attend the winter PAC awards banquet,” Ryan said. “(Athletic director) Rob (McGruder) called and told me we were going to have a meeting (the next day) with Jerry Brady, the junior high coach, Pat Colucci, the assistant superintendent, Don Rapose, the principal, and Rob. I asked Rob what the meeting was about. He said we’d see (the next day). I was totally blind as to what the meeting would entail.”

Ryan showed up for the meeting, still in the dark, as to what he was going to be talked about. It didn’t take long for his to figure it out.

“I go to the meeting and Jerry said he was there for my job,” Ryan said. “That seemed to catch the principal off guard a little bit. Basically, the tone of the meeting was that I wasn’t a very good coach. After about 45 minutes, my union representative said that was enough.”

Not long after, Ryan was notified he was no longer the wrestling coach at Lakeside via telephone call.

“After spring break, I was in my room meeting with Reid (Victor, the assistant wrestling coach) about offseason workouts,” Ryan said. “The AD asked me to complete the end-of-season information for him. (Reid and I) were done talking around 4 p.m. and I had a message from Rob wanting me to give him a call. He said, ‘We’ve decided to non-renew you.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘We decided to non-renew you.’ ”

Ryan immediately got in touch with his friend and assistant, Victor.

“I hung up and called Reid and told him I was just non-renewed and didn’t understand why,” Ryan said.

After letting the news fester over night, Ryan went to school the next day and sought an explanation. He wanted some light shed on the situation. He remains in the dark to this day.

“The next day, I asked why, but they didn’t give me a reason,” Ryan said. “I checked my contract and they don’t have to give me a reason. I am given a contract every year. I’ve always had good reviews.”

Not happy, Ryan pursued an answer from further up the chain. Still, he received no help.

“I tried to get ahold of the superintendent (Joe Donatone),” Ryan said. “He was in a meeting, at which point the assistant superintendent called me back. I said I was just looking for a clarification. I didn’t understand why I’d been non-renewed and I asked what I had done wrong. I wasn’t given a direct answer.

“He said it wasn’t a flattering meeting, and he was surprised at the way it was conducted. I told him I wasn’t given an explanation of who, what, why and when.”

The response Ryan received gave him an idea as to why things were happening the way they were, but it still wasn’t a full explanation of what had gone wrong. Adding insult to injury, Ryan was asked if he swallow his pride a bit and accept an awkward situation to remain coach of the Dragons.

“Five minutes later, (Colucci) called me back. He asked if there was any way the two of us (Jerry and I) could coach together. Basically, I was non-renewed because of something somebody said. That someone is not at practices. I said no, after the way I was treated. I still got no clarification.”

The feeling Ryan and his union representative got was that the whole situation was based on the opinions of people who were not at practices or matches with the Dragons, thus unfair to be brought to the board without any real proof.

“I contacted an attorney,” Ryan said. “This was all based on something someone said and I didn’t think that was fair. I talked to two school board members and they didn’t know I was non-renewed. They said they thought that was supposed to be a board action. I said I was officially non-renewed and I was never given a reason, they told me they never have to (give a reason). I was still not satisfied with that.

“I talked to the principal and he asked if there were some way (Jerry and I) could work together. I said I didn’t think I could.”

There is still a chance things could change for Ryan. However, it would still be a bit of an insult to the coach. He would have re-apply for the job and go through the hiring process all over again, hoping he was the best candidate once more.

If he had not been non-renewed, all that he would have had to do was sign the contract for next season.

“It is a little unsettling,” Ryan said. “After the time I put in, to be handled and treated that way was a little unsettling.”

Lost in the whole equation has been the Lakeside wrestlers. They also tried to get a reason for the decision. They, too, were stonewalled.

“The kids talked to the AD,” Ryan said. “They were not given any answers. They said they were going another direction. What other direction? I thought I was doing a good job.”

For Ryan’s part, he felt no need to address the matter with the team. He didn’t have the answers to the questions that would be asked. He could shed no further light on the situation.

“I have not addressed them formally as a team,” Ryan said. “I don’t think there’s much that can be said. It’s hard being non-renewed. I could wish them luck and tell them I don’t think I’ll be back. I certainly wish them luck and continued success.”

Ryan appreciated the support he received from his team and its parents.

“It is certainly nice to know the kids are in my corner,” Ryan said. “I heard several of the parents were upset. It was nice to hear that. I felt appreciated. I don’t care what people say, as long as I am helping the kids. If people want to say bad things about me, so be it.”

As far as letting everyone know just how he feels, Ryan balks at putting his opinion out there. Then goes on to give a small sliver of what he thinks.  

“I think everyone knows what my opinion is,” Ryan said. “I don’t think it needs to be put out there any further. The kids know how I feel. I think this was very unprofessionally done. It wasn’t handled well and it was without any kind of explanation as to why.”                        

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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