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Arbitrator ruling clears path for high school basketball coach's reinstatement

Support to reinstate Shreffler came from his students
Support to reinstate Shreffler came from his students
Jessica Hathaway

As it was reported in the Public Opinion on Saturday, February 22 , an arbitrator ruled that former Chambersburg Area Senior High School (CASD) boy's basketball coach Shawn Shreffler should not only be reinstated but deserves almost two years of back pay. Shreffler was fired in April 2012 by the Chambersburg Area School Board who voted to not renew his contract for the next school year. Over the course of the 15 seasons that he was employed as the head basketball coach, the Trojans had 241 wins and two-time District 3 Class AAA title holders. Although the school board responded that they did not have to explain their reason for not renewing his contract, Shreffler asserted that he was fired in response to complaints about his language in the locker room and coaching style. The school board became involved after a report was made that Shreffler used a foul word in his conversation with the players on the team in the locker room. At the April 25 school board meeting, a former student and the parent of a former player spoke out against Shreffler complaining that he treated the players unfairly and yelled at the boys on the team humiliating them in front of their peers. More than 20 people attending the meeting spoke out in support of Shreffler who was moved to hear his current and former students tell the school board that they credited him as a coach and role model. In a closed executive session, the school board voted in a 5-4 decision to remove Shreffler from his coaching position.

Shreffler challenged the dismissal stating that as an employee of the school district that he was protected by the union's collective bargaining agreement and was not provided due process. Shreffler alleged in his complaint that he was not given advance notice that his employer had a complaint about his work performance and was not given the opportunity to defend himself or improve his behavior. According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, public school employees are entitled to a due process hearing prior to any action being taken including termination. Known as a Loudermill hearing, the employee is to be notified of the charges against them, given a summary of the evidence, and the opportunity to defend themselves. Shreffler stated that the school board failed to notify him that he was a subject to be discussed at the next meeting and only became aware of the same after viewing it by happenstance on the online agenda two days before the executive session. After reviewing the complaint and the school board's appeal, the arbitrator ruled in favor of Shreffler.

Shreffler, who has been employed by the CASD for 21 years, has been a 5th grade teacher at Hamilton Heights Elementary School for 14 years. The Public Opinion was unable to reach him for a comment but spoke to his wife, Kris, who believes that he intends to accept the reinstatement into the position as the Trojan's head basketball coach which has been held by Beau Gantz for the past two seasons. As it stands now, the school district has 30 days to appeal the arbitrator's decision which would essentially keep the matter under litigation and unresolved. There was no comment from the school district's spokesperson, but at least two school board members said that they would not challenge the decision which would pave the way for Shreffler to get his job back for the 2014/2015 school year.

Following Shreffler's dismissal at least 2,000 people signed an online petition through demanding the basketball coach's reinstatement. Zach Bowie, who created the petition, referred to Shreffler as a "great coach" and a "good person" with an "outstanding record" who was "unfairly let go". Comments on the page were overwhelmingly supportive of Shreffler getting his job back. John Burgoon said that he coached with Shreffler for over 20 years and "am not about to leave him now". Others thought that the school board's decision was influenced by a few complaints and that they did not consider the majority of people who appreciated Shreffler's no-nonsense tough coaching style. Kenll Shull said in reference to student and parent complaints that "no coach should be fired for being a Coach, tell the kid to grow up and tell mommy to cut the apron strings". Georgia Blevins alleged that Shreffler was fired for "personal dislike (not professional reasons)" and thought that the school board did not follow proper voting process.

While it may be that Shreffler was the type of aggressive coach who did not mince words with the players on the team, this was not a recreational basketball league where every player receives a trophy just for showing up. A varsity team playing a sport at that level in high school is going to be instructed how to play aggressively so they can compete against the opposing team and win. That type of coaching may sound mean to a parent or student player used to positive reinforcement in a sport where winning is not as much the goal as it is just to have fun. In a recreational league, the coach is going to yell out "good job" or "nice try" if the player misses a basket whereas a member on a varsity league might expect to get reamed out by their coach for the same thing. Coaches have certain expectations of high school students that they do not have for elementary students playing the same sport. Those expectations continue to increase as a player moves up through the ranks. The student or parent who quivers from foul language or comments that seem demeaning will have hard time adjusting to being coached on a college level sports team where no one really gives a rats behind if someone's feelings were hurt. Just the same, the arbitrator's decision was not influenced by Shreffler's likeability as a coach one way or the other as it all came down to failure to provide due process.