Austintown board mulls coach's fate

AUSTINTOWN —  The suspended head softball coach at Fitch High School met privately with the school board Thursday.

The board is considering whether to fire Melody Rice from the supplemental position, board president Michael Creatore said today.

Rice said that even though nothing else was resolved, “I think I had the opportunity for the board to see my character.”

The school board voted unanimously at its Jan. 10   meeting to suspend Rice from her coaching duties while it investigates terminating her. That prompted an outcry from her players and their parents.

Players at the meeting said that the controversy surrounding their coach has been a disruption as their season fast approaches.

Practice begins Feb. 20.

They called Rice a dedicated coach who knows the game and is willing to work hard.

Head coach since 2004, she led the Falcons to a district championship in her first season —  one year after the team had gone 1-21.

The teachers union has vowed to help her, and the board received letters supporting Rice from the president of the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association and from the head softball coach at Kent State University.

No one at the meeting spoke against Rice, though Creatore said afterward that the suspension was the result of “numerous complaints” from parents.

The district gave The Vindicator a copy of a notice it sent Rice of its intention to consider her termination. At least one parent notified the district about receiving several phone calls from parents and fans attending a softball game that overheard coach Rice ridiculing a softball team member, the letter says.

The letter also accuses Rice of refusing to meet with district personnel, students and parents regarding concerns about her coaching style. It says she was directed to set up meetings with seven players who left the team, but she did not do so.

The letter also says administrators told Rice not to contact players or parents regarding a Dec. 12 meeting, during which she was ordered to meet with two board liaisons who were also parents of softball players. It says she did contact parents and players, causing divisiveness on the team.

The liaisons mentioned in the letter are Creatore, whose daughter Alyssa, a senior, has left the team; and Rich Zimmermann, who said his daughter Amanda, a senior, wants to leave the team.

Rice said Friday that the allegations in the letter are false. “That is not my character.”

She said she has been instructed by her union representatives and her attorney not to make specific comments on the allegations. She said that if the board goes through with her termination, she will “pursue this legally in the courts.”

Rice said she is grateful for the support of her players and parents. She said she is a young coach, has a lot to learn, and that she is not perfect. She said she believes, however, that the criticism of her coaching style stems from her resolve to play “the best nine girls on the field at any time.”

“Unfortunately, not all can be the best nine. And I think that’s where it’s coming from,” she added.

Rice will have a due process hearing on Feb. 9. Drew Bakes, the freshman softball coach, has taken over her coaching duties.

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