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The aftermath of Frank Sumbera being ousted as baseball and football coach at GPN- is this situation unique?

By: Tom Markowski, July 6, 2018, 2:20 pm

Grosse Pointe Woods – It’s possible that what took place recently at Grosse Pointe North is a microcosm of what’s been taking place throughout the state over the past 10 to 15 years or so.

You can blame the increase in poor, sometimes vulgar, social media posts, inexperienced personnel in the administrative offices or simply say that times have changed.

Frank Sumbera is one of the good guys, and there are a lot of good guys (and women) who are high school coaches in this state. He’s old school. His 49 seasons as North’s head varsity football coach and 47 seasons as the school’s varsity baseball coach would tell you that.

Apparently, a few players and parents within the Grosse Pointe school system don’t agree. They think Sumbera is a bad person and, to them, what’s worse, he’s a bad coach and that the only possible resolution to this situation was to get rid of him. So, in response to their outcries, North administrators did what any sensible administrative staff would do. They fired Sumbera on June 27.

Wouldn’t you do the same? I mean if you are a school administrator and a few angry parents complained about the coaching techniques of a certain coach the only logical thing to do would be to fire this person. Why bother talking to this coach’s assistants? After all, their opinions wouldn’t amount to much. No need to talk to the vast majority of Sumbera’s players or consult with other parents whose sons were coached by Sumbera?

(Of note, the players who complained are said to be seniors so they and their parents won’t benefit from Sumbera’s firing.)

Three months prior to Sumbera’s termination, North boys varsity basketball coach Ron Kochan was the first varsity coach at North to be let go. Kochan was North’s basketball coach for four seasons and the Norsemen’s record was 52-35 during this time. North was 12-10 this past season and lost to St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, 89-81, in a Class A district semifinal.

North’s baseball team was 20-12 this past season and lost to Grosse Pointe South, 6-0, in a Division 1 district semifinal.

Sumbera said when he met with school administrators on June 27 that his termination was not based on wins and losses. The reason he was given was that his style of coaching resulted in mental anguish suffered by a few players.

Reportedly no reasons were given to Kochan on why he was not asked to return for the 2018-19 season.

One must wonder what other coaches at North are on the hot seat. Indiscriminate firings could be contagious.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Recently it was reported that the contracts for coaches in the Detroit Public School League were renewed on a year-to-year basis. For some coaches, like Detroit Cass Tech varsity football coach Thomas Wilcher, the process is merely a formality. The success of Wilcher’s program, in terms of wins and losses, and the number of his student-athletes who have received college scholarships speaks for itself.

But for others their positions are often tenuous. One would hope that all are afforded a due process and performance reviews are handled properly. And as long as each individual understands how the system works, when a decision is made, good or bad for each individual, one can accept the outcome.

But what if they’re not? Who is held accountable? Hypothetically, if Dan Griesbaum, the longtime varsity baseball coach at Grosse Pointe South, was fired after winning this school’s second state championship what recourse would he have? Quite obviously there would be an outcry from the community and a request to the members of the school board on why such action took place would likely be submitted. If the athletic director said Griesbaum was fired because a few parents complained that their child received mental anguish as a result of Griesbaum’s coaching style one would question the basis of such complaints.  

A point to be made is that athletic directors, principals, and assistant principals are hired to make responsible decisions that benefit a particular school system. If a coach is to be hired than one would expect a thorough interview process before that person is hired. In that same thought, if a coach’s contract is terminated he or she should expect the same due diligence. Aside from a coaching position, a person’s reputation is at stake.

One has to question whether this took place at Grosse Pointe North. And if this didn’t take place at North, which is in one of the top school systems in the state, then can one expect this lack of fairness to be systemic at all state high school systems?   

We hope not. We hope there are responsible people in power of an athletic program who make decisions that benefit many, not just a few.