Coach Wright supporters try again

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Listening: Speakers during the Jan. 13 school board meeting asked that former Berne-Knox-Westerlo basketball coach Andrew Wright be reconsidered to become a coach again next season. His wife, Amy Wright, left, and her mother in law, Judy Wright, listen during public discussion against the backdrop of a television camera not typically at board meetings.

BERNE  — A contingent supporting dismissed Berne-Knox-Westerlo coach Andrew Wright has asked officials, with subdued written statements and a guest speaker, to bring him back for next year.

Wright said his attorney, Ryan Finn, has submitted a request for documents they believe can further explain why he was not re-appointed as varsity basketball coach after 10 years in the post and expects an answer next week. He was contacted by The Enterprise for this story and did not attend the Jan. 13 board meeting where his supporters spoke.

“Until I find out where my opposition was in this, that’s mysterious and won’t present itself very clearly to me, it doesn’t make sense to consider Berne as an option,” said Wright. He did not rule out returning to BKW, but said he is happy coaching junior-varsity boys’ basketball at Middleburgh Central School District, where he expects to be appointed as varsity coach next season.

In October, a crowd in the school’s auditorium gave ovations to speakers and jeers to the school board, demanding that Wright, a varsity basketball coach and social studies teacher, be reappointed for this season, his 11th. He is a tenured social-studies teacher at the school, his alma mater.

Earlier in the month, Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer told Wright he wouldn’t be re-appointed, Wright said, without consulting the high school principal or athletic director. Tom Galvin, the athletic director and a friend of Wright, resigned from his post in protest.

The resignation of the newest athletic director, Dean of Students Leonard Kies, was accepted at the Jan. 13 meeting.

Palmer declined to comment on the details of Wright’s dismissal, but said the board members met with him in executive session to go over their reasons.

Wright said he had met with a representative from the New York State United Teachers union and was told the teachers’ contract does not protect coaches in such a situation. 

“There’s an annual appointment,” said Wright. “The hiring and firing process isn’t specified.”

The current BKW varsity basketball coach, Tim Moseman, told The Enterprise that a program can be weakened by friendships between coaches and their players.

“I’m not looking to get friends at 37 years old,” Wright said, adding friendships with students after they graduate aren’t bad.

“Do I still have regular interaction with the players in the program, at all levels? Daily,” Wright said. “We have conversations in the hallway all the time, and it means a lot to me to have relationships with those kids.”

Subdued

Speakers at the Jan. 13 school board meeting addressed the auditorium of around 50 people from behind a podium and a microphone. Television cameras were recording, as they had been in October.

Richard Umholtz said Dennis Barber and Michael Puzulis, who have long been active with sports at the school and rallying for Wright, asked him to speak at the meeting this month. Umholtz is a retired director of administrative services for the state’s Department of Transportation and has served on the school district’s budget committee. He read a letter, signed by college basketball coaches and local town supervisors, requesting documents to explain why Wright wasn’t re-appointed.

“I just want to remind everybody, we respect the board, they’re doing a hard and difficult job, as we do Mr. Lonnie Palmer,” said Umholtz of the interim superintendent. “But sometimes we may have to go back and rethink and perhaps reconsider these decisions.”

Umholtz introduced Norm Miller, a former bobsled athlete and Olympic bobsled coach. Miller is the president of Leadership Management of New York Inc., a consulting firm. Miller and Umholtz in the 1990s were two of three Altamont Fair directors who had criticized the longtime fair secretary, Reid Northrup, and were subsequently replaced by the fair association.

To start, Miller said he had never met Wright, but had read press accounts about his case and was left with the impression that “political connections” were at play.

“For the sake of your students, to help them be all they can be, I encourage the school board to reconsider their decision and to look for a way to help prepare their students for the future by resolving this poor decision,” said Miller, citing the district’s mission.

James Hilton, an Army National Guard soldier, said he is not a BKW graduate but attended summer camps where Wright coached basketball. With anger, he told the board members they had made a mistake.

“I wasn’t a basketball player when I met him,” said Hilton. “He turned me into one.”

“I have a brother who plays for the basketball team,” said Hilton, “and part of the reason that he transferred to this school was so that he could play for Coach Wright…he was excited about that and that was taken away from him.”

Maureen Abbott, long active in the PTA, commended the dedication of the newest basketball coaches for BKW.

“I ask you to please support our boys and support our teams,” said Abbott.

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