SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Firing of head coach at Pennsylvania wrestling powerhouse again causes major controversy

TOM HOUSENICK
(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Easton High School sports logo

Easton branch of NAACP, others in community vow strong response to JaMarr Billman’s firing

Controversy has found the Easton Area School District for a second time in two years regarding wrestling coach JaMarr Billman.

Easton NAACP representative Marvin Boyer stood with other community members outside the school district’s administration building Friday afternoon in Forks Township to cry foul over Billman’s firing, the second time he’s been let go in 27 months.

They promised to take action after his latest firing on May 29, based on what they believe are unjust and illegal actions of a select few in Easton’s administration.

Standing a few feet away were members of the Easton wrestling program who are supportive of Billman.

“We’re all lost dogs now,” rising junior Braxton Appello said. "We don’t have our leader anymore. In every aspect I’m better now than I was two years ago thanks to [Billman]. The girls love him. Many of us love him.”

Appello, who was one of three Easton state medalists in 2020 under Billman, was one of several current and past wrestling team members who were there Friday to show their support for Billman.

“I was definitely upset and certainly didn’t understand it,” Appello said. "We were pretty successful in my two years, so it didn’t make sense why.

“[My teammates] have no idea what’s going to happen. I have no idea what’s going to happen. We’re just hoping for the best.”

Billman, who was 42-26 in his four seasons at his alma mater, was fired May 29 via a phone call from Easton Athletic Director Jim Pokrivsak. Easton is one of the traditional wrestling powers in Pennsylvania. Easton is second all time in the state with 968 victories,

The school district is accepting applications for his replacement until Monday. A new head coach, as well as perhaps a girls' varsity head coach, could be appointed at the June 30 school board meeting.

The school board approved the start of the girls' program at a meeting three days before firing Billman.

Boyer was joined Friday afternoon by Deacon Harold Levy of Greater Shiloh Church of Easton, Northampton County Councilman Kerry Myers — a former Easton school board president — as well as parents and other community members.

An attempt to get school district comment was unsuccessful. Billman also declined comment until a later date, but his supporters had plenty to say.

“Coach Billman has not only been a great wrestling coach for me, but I’ve looked up to him as a person,” 2018 Easton graduate Jacob Frank said. “He’s definitely made me a better person. The way he coaches and treats everyone on the team is just motivational.”

“Everything he’s taught us I’ve used in my everyday life in college,” 2019 grad Jake Koerwitz added. “He’s made me a better person. He’s not only a great wrestling coach and mentor but a great father. That’s what is most important.”

Billman’s supporters plan to take action to prove that the 1997 Easton graduate was unjustly relieved of his duties.

“We allege that there was continued and systematic unfair treatment," Boyer said, "harassment, retaliatory and racial discriminatory practices targeting Billman by a select few powerful Easton Area School District administrators during the course of the last two years.

“Their goal was to damage his professional reputation by changing and making false and misleading statements about his job performance, thus laying the groundwork to validate a wrongful termination a second time and to hire and put in place people who have verbally and maliciously attacked him.”

Billman's first firing: Billman was first fired in March 2018, after an incident at the PIAA Wrestling Championships involving him and members of a wrestler’s family. He was rehired a few days later, but Boyer and others still took issue with the school district’s handling of those incidents.

Supporters also pointed out that Billman was the lone black varsity head coach at Easton, and they had a problem with the timing and manner his firing. Pokrivsak delivered the news to Billman via a phone call at 3:15 p.m. on Friday, May 29.

Myers said he is discouraged by what transpired in the last week or so.

“I wore this [Easton red and black shirt] for one reason,” he said. "These colors represent a lot to our community, but there are some folks who have decided to take their own individual personal rights and try to do this, and it has to stop. It has to stop.

"Sometimes you’ve got to get in the weeds and get the weeds out and sometimes you’ve got to take the garbage out. Today we [are] starting to get the garbage out. We’ve got to bring tradition and pride back to our school district.

“... This is ugly the way this went down. Those who are responsible for it, they’ve got to go.”

No details were released about what the group is planning next other than a rally at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Easton Area School District administration building.

Major legal fees in first case: The school district spent more than $100,000 on a consultant and legal fees as part of the fallout from the first attempted firing of Billman. An independent investigation in the aftermath found about a dozen policies that needed to be addressed and an ad hoc committee was formed to address them.

Jonathan Pineda, a 2018 graduate who spoke publicly two years ago in support of Billman, was there Friday to again make it clear where he stands.

“He’s one of the biggest supporters I’ve ever had in my corner,” he said. “I still talk to him to this day just for my own personal reasons. He’s a big influence in my life.”