Wife of fired coach wants BKW board president to resign

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Amy Wright reads a statement during the Nov. 4 Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board meeting condemning school officials for the firing of her husband, former varsity basketball coach Andrew Wright. She claimed board members’ personal relationships with people in the basketball program are conflicts of interest.

BERNE — Amy Wright, at Monday’s school board meeting, called for school board President Joan Adriance to resign from the board, claiming Adriance’s personal relationships played into the decision to remove her husband, Andrew Wright, from coaching varsity basketball.

Andrew Wright said this week that he is working with an attorney to bring a civil suit against “certain individuals, but not the school.” He declined to name the individuals.

Mrs. Wright read at Monday’s meeting from two board policies, describing a separation between service on the board and private life, and avoiding conflicts of interest for personal gain. She said Adriance should have removed herself from the board’s discussions about the varsity coach since she had a “close personal relationship” with the family of a basketball player and had frequently complained about Wright, playing time, and fairness.

Amy Wright said, since Adriance hadn’t removed herself “from any and all discussions concerning boys’ varsity basketball where there was a clear conflict of interest,” she should “do the right thing now and resign.”

Adriance told The Enterprise Monday night that she would have to “digest” what was said about her and read the relevant policies before commenting. She declined to comment on Tuesday.

Additionally, while stressing the need for the school board to focus on academics, Amy Wright cited her own 13 years in education and said she had “never seen a personnel issue handled so poorly and so unprofessionally.” She asked, too, about plans to recruit a permanent superintendent — the last one left after three years and an interim superintendent, Lonnie Palmer, was appointed for a year — because, Amy Wright said, the turnover “contributes to a lot of the problems we’re having.”

“Also, as a side note, if Mrs. McGivern’s son is going to try out for the team this year, then there’s probably a conflict of interest there as well,” Mrs. Wright said of Chasity McGivern, who bested her in last May’s school-board election by fewer than 30 votes.

“I’ll be back,” Wright said. “I will be running again.”

New coaches

In the wake of Wright’s dismissal, all three boys’ basketball coaching posts — varsity, junior varsity, and modified — were vacant.

The board appointed two new coaches during its Nov. 4 meeting and accepted the resignation of Dennis Barber, the BKW modified basketball coach. Barber had spoken out in support of Wright and written a letter to the Enterprise editor calling for an explanation of his dismissal. In Wright’s place, the board appointed Tim Moseman. Jayme Bates was appointed coach for junior-varsity basketball, and Ryan Van Nostrand was appointed as a volunteer varsity assistant.

BKW’s former junior-varsity coach for 10 years under Wright, Brian McCoy, said this week he had already planned on not coaching before Wright’s firing. “It looked like I quit because of Andy,” he said, “but I had already planned on it for personal reasons.”

Last month, McCoy, a BKW chemistry teacher, said he had been interviewed for the varsity post but would prefer Wright keep his job.

“I don’t like how things are being handled,” he said then, praising Wright for doing a “great job.”

Barber was looking into the open junior-varsity position, but it has been filled by Jayme Bates. Barber says he’ll continue to run the Helderberg Youth basketball program, which is for third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do, I guess,” Barber said of the school board. “A familiar face should be coaching these kids. It should be someone people know.”

Andrew Wright on Wednesday was appointed Middleburgh junior-varsity boys’ basketball coach, after 10 years as a Berne-Knox-Westerlo head varsity basketball coach. He will stay on as social studies teacher at BKW, his alma mater, where he has taught for 10 years.

“I love teaching basketball and developing the kids, that’s part of who I am,” said Wright, who has coached all levels of the sport for 15 years. “I’m going to coach. I’m a coach. That’s what I do.”

What emotions will Wright feel when he comes into BKW’s gymnasium as an opposing coach?

“That’s not an easy place to go,” said Wright. “It’s an internal conflict, but I’m not a varsity coach though. I’m assisting the [Middleburgh] varsity, so I’m not calling any shots.”

Wright was at Middleburgh on Monday night, but knew his wife, Amy, would be speaking in front of the BKW school board. Wright said that as educators, both he and his wife share the same philosophies.

“I stand by my wife, just like she stands by me,” said Wright. “I have no regrets about what she said, and she needed to let people know about the role certain people played. It’s about ethics.”

As a tenured social studies teacher at BKW, how does Wright now view the district after his coach firing?

“I’ve been disrespected where I live, but I’ll be there, it’s my home,” Wright said. “I have complete commitment to the classroom. Basically, I’m a highly effective teacher committed to my school and my community. My connection doesn’t leave me.”

Seeking reasons

The public discussion period of the Nov. 4 school board meeting featured three speakers, in front of a gallery of 20 people that included varsity basketball players. In a more intimate setting than the packed auditorium on Oct. 21 where a score urged the coach be reinstated, similar sentiments were expressed — reprimanding the school board.

“The Hilltowns have a long history of defending what is right and working together to help their own,” Thomas Galvin, the school’s former athletic director, read from a letter, standing in front of the school board. Galvin quit his job in protest over Wright’s firing and has stated his views in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week. “The Anti-Rent Wars of the 1800s…are a great evidence of this spirit still alive in the Helderberg Hilltowns,” said Galvin.

Richard Umholtz, who has served on the school’s budget committee, was the third person to speak about Wright’s firing at the board meeting.

“Sooner or later, you must let the public and the taxpayers of BKW know specifically why you let Mr. Wright go,” said Umholtz.

After he finished and took his seat, Umholtz again stood in front of the silent board, saying they were letting public comments go unanswered like they had when the public outcry on Oct. 21 had no response. The board and Interim Superintendent Palmer apologized in a letter to the Enterprise editor last week, writing, though, that they could not publicly comment on the firing of an individual employee, under New York Personal Privacy Protection Law.

“We met with Andy,” board member Vasilios Lefkaditis said, responding to Umholtz. “We told him the reasons. We gave him a dozen reasons, give or take. And he could share them with you. We can't. You know we can't.”

Andrew Wright had shared with The Enterprise (online at www.altamontenterprise.com for Oct. 24, 2013) the list of seven expectations he had been given by school administrators in 2011, including keeping athletes out of his social studies classroom, being mature and composed on and off the court, being professional with parents and the community, enforcing the athletic code of conduct, and treating every athlete equally regardless of ability.

Andrew Wright met with the school board on Oct. 30 in a closed session to learn about the reasons for his being fired. He said this week that Palmer had a list of specific complaints. Wright said he asked Palmer for a copy of the list, but he refused.

“I brushed it off, but I still want a copy of that,” said Wright. “If there are concerns about what I’ve done, I should be able to defend myself.”

Wright said that Palmer told him the complaints included bad communication of information involving last season’s basketball banquet, and concerns about practices being held too late in the evenings.

“They’re searching for questionable things,” Wright said. “There has been no grounds since day one, and no discussion. It’s mysterious, vague, and unnecessary.”

Palmer also questioned Wright about his Upstate Scouting Service, Wright said, specifically regarding former BKW basketball player Garrett Pitcher and current player Justin Houck, who are listed on the scouting service website.

“Those two players aren’t favorites; they’re talented players who can succeed at the next level,” said Wright.

Upstate Scouting Service helps top high school talent from around New York State get noticed by colleges and universities, Wright said.

“I love basketball, and I’m glad to have an opportunity,” he said of the Middleburgh job, concluding, “and, who knows, you might see me back here.”

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