PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The head coach of one of this season’s winningest local high school football teams has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against his district.
Terry Smith claims the Gateway School Board’s decision over the summer to demote him to part-time athletic director and cut his pay by half was racially motivated and in violation of the school district’s affirmative action policies.
Smith wants to be restored to full-time AD and coach at full salary.
“I think if Terry Smith was a white man they’d be erecting a stadium to him or a monument to his achievements,” Smith’s attorney, Milton Raiford, told KDKA investigator Andy Sheehan.
Those achievements include a record of 99 wins and only 29 defeats over Smith’s 10 years as coach. This season, the Gators are atop the Foothills Conference in the WPIAL Quad-A, and have already made the playoffs.
The district says the decision to cut Smith’s position was for purely budgetary reasons and that the cuts included arts programs and educational staff, although the district was able to reinstate 27 teacher positions that were originally on the chopping block.
“It was imperative that we get our teachers back first, because we love our sports teams and we love our arts programs, but academics is what every school district is about and that’s where our priority had to be,” said district spokeswoman Cara Zanella.
In cutting Smith, the board was also pressured by his critics, including some parents who attribute his success to his ability to attract players to transfer from other school districts.
Three marquee players on this year’s team: Brenon Thrift, Aiden Howard and Ricky Rodgers all transferred into Gateway from other districts.
Zanella acknowledges that there is a perception among some parents that their property taxes are paying to educate the transfer players while their own sons can no longer make the team.
“It is the perception, but it’s not the correct perception,” said Zanella. “Our statistics show the vast majority of those who transfer into the district transfer for the academics.”
And Smith’s attorney strongly resists any implication that the coach actively recruits players from other districts.
“This man has done nothing wrong. He has not recruited anyone. There are strict prohibitions against that in the Gateway School District, which is adhered to, and the WPIAL has not found him in violation,” said Raiford.