by Peter Jakey—Managing Editor
The high school library was filled to capacity Monday night as supporters of fired Rogers City High School wrestling coach Pat Lamb were in attendance to speak and provide morale support.
There were more than 65 people in the audience, including elementary teachers there for another issue, but most were there in support of reinstatement of Lamb as coach and custodian. A dozen people, including family members and former wrestlers spoke on behalf Lamb.
Last Thursday (March 10), interim superintendent Lee Sandy terminated the longtime, well-respected wrestling coach, who was in the corner with four state champions and took the program to a state runner-up finish in 2005.
Lamb was terminated for taking a varsity jacket from the lost and found pile near the high school office and putting it in the dumpster. It was since located and returned to the student.
He was suspended with pay before the individual state finals, pending the March 10 meeting with Sandy, who was on vacation at the time.
Lamb and his supporters were hopeful the board would hear a public appeal of Sandy’s decision and Lamb requested that it be conducted in an open session. It was listed as an agenda item; however, Sandy informed the board that Lamb has to “exhaust his options under the contract that he works under for the custodial position, the local unit of the MEA (Michigan Education Association).
“Until he does that, the board does not have to offer him a hearing, in fact the board does not have to offer him a hearing at all.” Sandy added. “(Lamb) has an option under the contract he needs to take, and go from there.”
Board president John Krajenta said, “The fact that Pat has been a great coach is not a question mark under the board’s mind.” He commented that Lamb’s student/athletes were commended in a letter for their sportsmanship at a recent special meeting.
“Those are real pluses,” said Krajenta. “But we want to make sure that the situation that we’re dealing with is dealt with.”
While there was no appeal for the disciplinary action that has been taken, Lamb made one anyway when Krajenta allowed him to speak in the final minutes of the two-hour meeting.
“I would like to thank everyone for their support, and I would like to say I did not solicit anybody for their support,” said Lamb. “What I did folks, I made a grave error. I made a bad mistake that goes against everything I ever have tried to instill in my athletes. I took a varsity jacket out of the lost and found and placed it in the trash. It was an error in judgement…I am ashamed of my actions. I feel like a hypocrite because of everything I have tried to instill in my athletes — to not lie and be honest, to not steal. I am a hypocrite. I admit that.”
Lamb said, to not be able to coach his wrestlers at the state finals, or support youth on the floor has been painful.
“Aside from burying my parents and my nephew Wyatt, those were the hardest things I ever had to do in my life,” Lamb, his voice rising. “I feel I made a grave error and I am truly sorry for that.
“My heart broke when I could not go down and support my athletes on the mat at the state finals, which I have done for many, many years. I could not attend the last three practices of my varsity wrestlers’ careers.”
He continued, “I am the one that broke my heart. I did that.” Lamb said he believes he let a lot of people down.
“Mr. Sandy, I have a great deal of respect for you; however, I do not feel that the infraction I did, the punishment, does not fit the crime, so to speak, and I implore you to think of some other way to punish me because I have been working in this school district for a long time. This action is throwing away my retirement; it is throwing away my career; I can live with that. I cannot live without being able to coach Rogers City wrestling anymore.”
Following the board meeting, Sandy said, “I did what I had to do. It was my decision. This was not a board decision. If we were going to fire a teacher, I would be the one authorizing the charges and then take it to the board. Teachers are different because of the tenure law.”
Responding to the numerous comments made on behalf of Lamb’s accomplishments and impacts on young lives, Sandy said, “They were good comments. You have to expect that from someone who has done a good job as a wrestling coach, but like he said, he admitted to the mistake and I had to take action based on what he did, and stealing a kid’s varsity jacket is a major…you know, if somebody else did that, it has a lot of ramifications. Are we going to overlook theft? He was surprised when I terminated him.”
Earlier in the meeting, assistant coach Rob Kortman spoke about the situation surrounding the removal of the jacket and the build up during the season that boiled over with the taking of the jacket, which has a value of about $250 when purchased new.
County commissioner Lee Gapczynski, who formerly served on the school board, was a co-captain with Lamb on the undefeated wrestling team of 1977 and offered his comments. “As a captain, Pat was a dedicated hard worker, and a leader. I believe he has lived his entire life with those qualities, and has always put them first.
Gapczynski went on to say that as a member of the school board the biggest mistake he made was removing Lamb as athletic director. “It was purely a financial decision, with no thought for the children,” he said. Gapczynski urged the board to reinstate Lamb to his positions, so the community can move on.
Devin Pommerenke, a two-time state wrestling champion, sent a lengthy letter signed by himself and 30 other of Lamb’s former wrestlers offering their support. He reminded the board that the bylaws state, “This honorable board has the last say, the final say to appeal Mr. Sandy’s decision. I ask that you folks do that. It is your authority, and not someone who is here part time, gets to leave, and does not ever have to answer for any of his actions.”
(Complete story is in the March 17, 2016 edition of the Presque Isle County Advance)