“Mr. High School Sports” – Smith, Gateway Still in Noble Pursuit of Justice
By Matt Popchock
Last Wednesday residents of the greater Monroeville area lined up around the Gateway Senior High School auditorium to loudly and proudly voice their support for the full-time retention of athletic director/head football coach Terry Smith, but the relative silence of their school board remains deafening.
The board voted 8-1 to keep Smith on the sidelines of Antimarino Stadium for the upcoming season. However, in concurrence, it cut his salary as athletic director in half while reducing that job to part-time, and, per the vote, effective at the end of the 2012 calendar year, administrators in the district are forbidden from holding supplemental positions. Furthermore, Smith must foot the bill for half his own benefits moving forward.
He told me he would continue to weigh his legal options; in fact, an anti-discrimination suit is either being filed, or has been filed by the local NAACP chapter, depending to whom you speak.
“We certainly don’t want to see anything like that happen within the district, but we’ll deal with that when and if that happens,” said Gateway communications director Cara Zanella. “We’ll see if we can come up with a resolution.”
The bottom line is, although Smith is slated to lose at least one of his jobs at the end of the season, his situation remains a fluid one.
“Anything that has to do with government is that way,” Zanella said. “Obviously there’s folks who were very passionate about this, and continue to be. We’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails, and we continue to get phone calls. We don’t look for that to die down anytime soon.”
Tammy Richardson, a district parent and ardent Smith supporter, says a donor with ties to former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis has submitted a $57,000 check to the school board to cover Smith’s original salary. Richardson claims she has yet to hear from the board as to the status of that donation.
At least the board, in an executive session prior to its latest meeting, amended its June 27 agenda, which originally toyed with the notion of terminating Smith altogether. But, as I previously contended, the operative word is “agenda.”
On the 27th it voted 7-2 against maintaining Smith’s full-time employment status, so it pretty much voted in lock-step to wield the proverbial axe one way or another. However, this move alone will have no tangible impact on the district’s finances, and Smith says he was given no advance notice of the cuts to his own job.
Dr. Oliver Drumheller–who was, to the best of my knowledge, the only “yea” voter to address the media last week–places blame at the feet of Governor Corbett.
“I’m very upset at the governor, not just for his lack of funding, but for his lack of backbone, or willingness to stand up to corporations that are hiding behind tax exemptions,” Drumheller said. “That’s who these people should be going after. I can assure you [race] was not a factor. This was about getting the athletic department where it needs to be going forward.”
However, longtime board member Bill Bailey, who, in both instances, cast a “nay” vote, isn’t willing to just slip that card back in the deck.
“I was elected in 1996, and I’ve been the only African-American on the board since,” he said. “I’ve lived in Monroeville for [30 years]. If it were a money thing, I think people would have just accepted it. I haven’t heard much acceptance yet. If you’ve ever seen the list of duties of the athletic director, let alone football coach, those duties don’t end after a half-day.”
I recently took minor criticism for examining the racial angle of this story, which is to be expected. Just because that hostility isn’t superficial doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, though. The board is entirely white except for Bailey, an African-American, so it wouldn’t surprise me if race were a factor. Others have told me of an underlying racial divide in that school district.
But what happens on Election Day probably has an even bigger effect on what has happened this summer…and I’m not necessarily talking about Corbett’s candidacy.
Recently I cited head basketball coach Mitch Adams as a major behind-the-scenes rival of Smith’s, and although one Gateway alumnus in particular who e-mailed me didn’t like it, I’m not completely out of touch for pointing a finger in Adams’ general direction.
His brother, Mike Adams, is the current public works director for Monroeville. The Monroeville Public Works Department apparently carries a lot of clout in that area. Mike Adams is believed to be a political ally of Monroeville mayor Greg Erosenko, which means he can deliver the critical public works vote for Erosenko this fall.
Erosenko is a former Gateway School Board president, and, like Mitch Adams, reportedly tried to oust Smith once upon a time. In addition, sources say Erosenko still has a great deal of influence on Dave Magill, the current president. But those sources also say Erosenko has tried to keep that influence quiet because the black vote is equally important to his campaign.
In any event, it’s come to my attention Smith, for better or worse, has his fair share of enemies. I’ve even heard some of my own media peers say Smith, in a roundabout way, just might be getting what he deserves. They complain about a lack of preparedness on his part for non-football events.
I, for one, have had nothing but positive dealings with him, as I’ve said before, and, Smith has gone on record as telling me to work for his alma mater, in any capacity, is an honor.
“I walked these very halls when I was a youngster. I’ve been here the last 11 years as a coach. I’m a black-and-gold guy,” Smith said.
Even a part-time AD would still be responsible for accommodating media. We cover activities that take place after the end of a part-time employee’s work day. Personally I’d rather deal with someone who, even after his demotion, views that vigilance as a labor of love.
“Number one is safety. If you have a half-time AD, who’s going to cover events in the evening?” Smith asked rhetorically before Wednesday’s meeting. “Who’s going to [take care of] equipment? Then there’s the opportunities. If you have a half-time AD, that’s half the day that’s missed, whether it’s college coaches coming in to recruit a kid, or another athletic director calling you to schedule. If you miss that, because of how quickly schedules are set, you miss out on good matchups.”
Something has to give at Gateway. It’s one thing to scramble for savings in the midst of state-wide budget cuts, and Smith certainly isn’t the only district employee to bear the brunt of these trying times. To make someone a sacrificial lamb whose department has generated money and positive attention for the school is something of an insult to the intelligence of those who came to his defense.
In football vernacular, the Gateway School Board needs to call it both ways. If Smith is to become a part-time AD, then every administrative position in the district should be reduced to part-time. Only then might the district see a substantial reduction of its financial burden.
Jack McCurry and Jim Render, two other highly successful WPIAL Class AAAA coaches, endured similar threats to job security many years ago. Hopefully for Gateway’s sake, Smith enjoys a similarly hearty last laugh. However you feel about him personally, the football program at that school would not be in the good position it is today if not for him. Even though WPIAL championships have barely eluded Smith as coach, the Gators were not seriously challenging for them until he came home.
“I’m going to live for today today,” Smith said, diplomatic in partial defeat. “Those kids are going to give their best effort, and I’m still going to give them my best effort. We’re halfway through the battle. We’ve reversed one decision, and we’re optimistic that we can reverse another decision.
“When you’re in sports for this long, you’ve got to be prepared for peaks and valleys. Right now I’m in a valley, so I’ve just got to stay even-keel and keep pressing forward.”
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)
CORRECTION: The July 10 article “Will Gateway Oust Successful Coach?” erroneously identified Justin King as Terry Smith’s nephew; King is, in fact, the coach’s stepson. We apologize for the oversight.