Days after controversial firing, Pa. high school football head coach reapplies for job

MIKE WHITE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Students gather in front of Pine-Richland High School rallying in support of the fired head football coach Eric Kasperowicz Friday, Apr. 16, 2021, in Richland Twp., Pa. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette via AP)

Eric Kasperowicz has reapplied for his job as Pine-Richland High School football coach.

If a district representative of the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association has his way, Kasperowicz will be the only applicant for the job.

Kasperowicz is the highly successful football coach at Pine-Richland High School who was informed by school administration Wednesday that neither he nor his assistant coaches will be re-hired for next season. His ouster has created a public outcry in the Pine-Richland School District and the district posted the football position for applicants on Friday.

Kasperowicz confirmed that he re-applied Friday. When Gateway High football coach/athletic director Don Holl found out Kasperowicz re-applied, he sent an email to every varsity coach in the entire state, asking them to show support for Kasperowicz by not applying for the job.

Holl's move is an indication of the growing support for Kasperowicz. Holl is one of five WPIAL representatives on the PSFCA and he also asked all Pennsylvania coaches to show support for Kasperowicz by possibly posting a message on Twitter or other social media platforms.

Sending an email to every Pennsylvania coach asking them not to apply for a job certainly is highly unusual, but the Kasperowicz case is highly unusual. His situation has become big news in Western Pennsylvania, with many people questioning how such a successful coach could be let go — and the Pine-Richland School District not commenting, saying it can't talk about personnel matters.

"I just thought the way coaches could all show support was not apply for the job, out of respect for that whole Pine-Richland staff," Holl said. "We all understand that school boards or administrators don't need a reason to fire you. But we also understand that if there is a contract or agreement in good faith, you do a good job as coach, represent the district the right way, do it in a positive and classy manner, get kids into colleges and also win, then it shouldn't be 'we're going to fire you because we can.'"

Kasperowicz knows about Holl's actions and also about how other sports teams, coaches, athletes and community people in the Pine-Richland district have displayed support for him.

"I'm extremely humbled. I'm speechless, to be honest. It's very touching," said Kasperowicz, who won four WPIAL titles and two state championships in eight seasons.

Denying bullying: That's all Kasperowicz would say Saturday. It was the first comment he made since being let go Wednesday, except for releasing a statement Thursday saying he denied hazing or bullying took place during his eight years as coach.

Pine-Richland's administration had conducted an investigation in recent months into alleged hazing and bullying in the football program. The administration interviewed players past and present and some of those players called the investigation a joke. A few parents of players who were interviewed by administrators have told the Post-Gazette that administrators have falsely turned small "boys being boys" incidents into hazing.

Coaches showing support: Meanwhile, various coaches and sports teams at Pine-Richland have been stepping up to show their support of Kasperowicz. Boys basketball coach Bob Petcash posted a message on Twitter Friday night and ended it by saying "I stand with Coach K and the entire Pine-Richland coaching staff."

The Pine-Richland baseball team's Twitter account has had a message supporting the football team at the top of its page since Thursday. The Pine-Richland field hockey Twitter page had a message Saturday from coach Donna Stephenson that supported Kasperowicz.

The Pine-Richland softball team's show of support for Kasperowicz is a story in itself. The team's Twitter page had a message on Friday, asking other Pine- Richland sports teams to "tape #FINISH on your jersey" in support of the football coaching staff. The Pine-Richland football team used #FINISH as a motto last season because it lost in the WPIAL championship game in 2019.

Parents of softball players told the Post-Gazette that Pine-Richland administration called coach Gary Shepard and asked that the post be removed and that #FINISH could not be put on Pine-Richland uniforms because national high school rules do not permit messages to be put on uniforms.

So, instead every Pine-Richland softball player wore white ribbons in their hair during Friday's game — and the ribbons had "#FINISH" written in green. Kasperowicz's daughter, Ella, plays for the softball team.

Holly Johnson is the vice president of the softball boosters and has a daughter, Ashley, on the team. Holly Johnson also is a former Pine- Richland school board member.

"They fire coaches here all the time here, and I have never seen so many people outraged," Holly Johnson said. "But I also have never seen such community support and so many people unite like this."

When asked, as a former school board member, what should happen next, Johnson said, "They should reinstate Eric. If these (hazing) firings are overblown, as they appear to be, the whole staff should be reinstated."

Amy Terchick is the secretary of the Pine-Richland girls lacrosse boosters and junior varsity field hockey coach. She also is running for school board in May's primary on a four-person "pack ticket" with Lisa Hillman, Christina Brussalis and Joe Cassidy. Terchick's daughter, Katelyn, is a senior on the lacrosse team and a number of the lacrosse players were at a student rally Friday to support Kasperowicz.

"I am waiting for one person to come forward and say the administration and the board did the right thing. There's not one," Terchick said. "It looks like a witch hunt and smells like a witch hunt. ... I have always been proud to live here and have been very involved in the community, but it's one thing after another with this administration and we're embarrassed about it. It looks like administrators with some agenda and the school board rubber stamps it. I know they're not listening to the constituents."