Andy Wright would love his old job back, under the proper circumstances.
That isn’t happening anytime soon, so he’d settle for some public acknowledgement from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District of how and why he was fired from that job.
That ain’t happening, either, so his final recourse is to pry it out of somebody through legal means.
Wright, born and raised in the Helderberg Hilltowns, was the varsity boys’ basketball coach at BKW for the past 10 seasons, reaching the quarterfinals of the Class C sectionals last season before losing by three points to eventual state champion Lake George.
This season, he’s coaching JV at Middleburgh one valley over, with assurance that he’ll be the varsity coach there next season.
Meanwhile, his lawyer sent a letter to BKW earlier this month requesting information, followed it up with a Freedom of Information Law request and expects a response in January.
Other than one long phone call I made to him on Saturday morning, I don’t know Andy Wright, but I’m interested in how the rest of his story unfolds because it seems like it could set a smelly precedent on how high school coaches are rehired or not.
“They wanted a witch hunt, and they got it and they won it,” Wright said. “Of course, I want to coach at my school.”
Central to this scenario is a survey that was distributed after the winter sports seasons were finished last school year. The survey solicited comments from — well, anyone, really — on how BKW coaches were performing. That gave people with a beef against Wright the opportunity to make it known to the school board anonymously.
And make no mistake, there are people in the district with beefs against Wright, which separates him from just about every other high school coach on the planet … in no way at all.
The fact that the school board would consider such an avenue for supplementing the hiring process is disturbing on many fronts, not the least of which is it enables what may be a minuscule fraction of the community to exert an unwarranted level of influence.
Interim district superintendent Lonnie Palmer tried to downplay the impact of the survey in a letter to the editor published in the Oct. 30 Altamont Enterprise, nine days after an emotionally charged board meeting at which a cavalcade of Wright supporters beseeched the board for two hours to reconsider his firing.
But the survey is at least symbolic of how an agenda to get rid of Wright appears to have been in place, and was carried out. That notion was reinforced at the board meeting, when a variety of supporters, including former players and long-time BKW girls’ basketball coach Tom Galvin, among many others, made an impassioned plea that was pretty much ignored. Some supporters were verbally antagonistic toward the board on the way out.
“They dismissed the whole process,” Galvin said. “It was almost a waste of two hours of everyone’s lives. We could’ve lined up jugglers and dancing horses, they weren’t going to listen.”
Wright, 36, considers Galvin, 41, a close friend and mentor.
Each grew up and played basketball at BKW, and teach social studies in the district.
Galvin, a member of the Section II girls’ basketball committee, had also been the BKW athletic director until Wright’s impending ouster came to light, at which point he resigned as AD in protest.
Part of his job as AD was to make coaching recommendations for each sport to the superintendent, which, barring unusual circumstances, are rubber-stamped on a year-to-year basis. If a coach did a good job the previous year and wants to come back, it’s usually just a formality.
Galvin suspected something was amiss when he was told to bring Wright with him to the annual hiring meeting in October.
“I had no prior knowledge that there was a problem,” Galvin said. “There have never been any issues [at the recommendation meetings]. Andy stated his case a little bit, and I said I was disappointed that I wasn’t told or consulted. At least give me a chance to defend my choice, or I won’t be the AD the next day.”
Wright and Galvin firmly believe that Wright was fired because a vocal minority of parents had lingering grudges over their sons’ playing time, something that could’ve been expressed in the survey.
If that’s the case, it’s a meddlesome corruption of how varsity sports are governed and conducted.
BKW’s own athletic code of conduct says that “a specified amount of playing time is not guaranteed” and specifically reminds parents that “it should be recognized that involvement in interscholastic athletics is a privilege.”
As players progress up to the varsity level, the winning-losing component becomes much more prominent, at the expense of balanced minutes for the sake of balanced minutes. That’s life.
Palmer, in the Altamont Enterprise letter, implied that issues with Wright went beyond a few disgruntled parents, without formally saying so. He referred to a 2011 memo from the school that Wright has made public in which he was given guidelines to follow if he wanted to come back and coach in 2011-12.
Wright met that list of expectations, which included toning down his sideline demeanor, to the satisfaction of the school in 2011. The seventh item stuck out, though: “You must treat every athlete equally regardless of ability.”
Wright took that to mean that somebody had a problem with how he was distributing minutes, although then-principal Thomas McGurl denied that, Wright said.
“It was silly stuff, probably stuff that every coach in Section II is guilty of … kids [players] in your classroom, court demeanor, facial expressions to the ref,” Galvin said. “He met every expectation to a tee, and we moved on.”
Regarding playing time, Wright said, “It’s like life. It’s based on ability. I think I’ve developed my reputation to a level of respect and doing it the right way and treating people the right way. To say that I played favorites is absurd.”
In the executive session with Palmer, Wright said that some of the issues the superintendent raised included night practices being held too late, poor communication of information regarding last season’s awards banquet and a scouting service that Wright owns.
In his Altamont Enterprise letter, Palmer cited the New York Personal Privacy Protection Law for the board’s refusal to talk about personnel matters in public.
In the meantime, the groundswell of support for Wright, who has five kids with his wife, Amy, continues.
He and his lawyer want to see Palmer’s notes from the meeting and the surveys, which some parents in the district were not even aware of when they materialized last spring.
“Not only is it unprecedented, but I’ve spoken to a few parents who are in support who said, ‘We never saw these,’ so you can see the levels of how corrupt it is,” Wright said. “The whole thing is kind of shady and sad. The whole dynamic is bizarre.
“People are upset. I go to the post office, the store, anyplace where people are, and I get bombarded. It’s worn me down psychologically. I feel like I can be proud of who I am.”