Thursday, April 10, 2003

Silenced Cape crowd calls for coach’s reinstatement

Published in the Current

At a Tuesday Cape School Board meeting packed with 100 people largely supporting fired basketball coach Jim Ray, board Chairman Marie Prager told the crowd that only two would be able to speak.

Among the audience were about 25 basketball coaches from throughout Southern Maine, standing in the balcony overlooking the meeting space, silent but all wearing pins reading “J Ray Must Stay.” Most other audience members also wore the pins.

Only two people, who had contacted the board ahead of time, were allowed to express their views. Grady Stevens, father of three former athletes coached by Ray, read a statement signed by 238 people in support of Ray, and also read email messages from three recent graduates.

“To say the least, his termination is bewildering,” Stevens said. “The community deserves an explanation.” His remarks were followed by thunderous applause. Prager gaveled the meeting back to order, saying “please stop, please stop.”

Tom Tinsman, also the father of three former Ray players, was the other speaker. He said he wants to see the evaluation.

“I’m hoping as a citizen in this town that we find out what is in that report,” he told the board.

Tinsman said he supports Superintendent Tom Forcella, Principal Jeff Shedd and the School Board, and wants Ray to improve his coaching.

“He has some attributes which are not conducive to good learning,” Tinsman said. “Over the years I’ve been treated with total disrespect,” he said.

“My hope is that Jim Ray can come before this board, admit his mistakes, apologize for them, accept the recommendations given to him by his boss and go on,” he said.

“Only (Ray) knows why he chose not to do those things,” Tinsman said. “We need to know where he stands.” Two people applauded Tinsman’s

Discussion cut short
When those two people had spoken, Prager said that ended the discussion for now.

“This is not something that is on our agenda,” she said. She promised that a future meeting would be scheduled where people could be heard. “It’s very important that everyone interested in this matter be heard,” she said.

“The board realizes it must review this matter in detail. Right now we are sitting here before you not having any information in this matter,” Prager said. “Everyone needs to calm down and know that the School Board will approach this matter with an open mind.”

Prager said after the meeting she did not know when a followup meeting would occur.

According to Ray’s attorney, Gerald Petruccelli, the next step is to wait for the School Board and its attorney to define the appeal’s process for fired coaches, because none appears to exist.

What people wanted to know at the meeting was what prompted Ray’s evaluation and dismissal as coach of the Cape Elizabeth boys varsity basketball team.

That’s the question Ray and supporters hope to answer as Ray begins his appeal before the Cape School Board – a process he hopes will lead to his reinstatement.

Many of the answers are cloaked in the name of “it’s a personnel matter,” and may remain that way. Some, however, believe, as one Ray supporter put it Friday night, it may not be a personnel matter so much as it is a personal one.

Friday night rally
About 100 people attended a rally Friday night in the high school cafeteria and spent two hours speaking calmly but emotionally in support of Ray. While many were involved with the basketball program, a number of speakers also knew Ray from his work in the community or as classroom teacher.

Several of the speakers thanked Principal Shedd for being the only school administrator to attend the meeting. It was Shedd’s evaluation of Ray that led to the coach’s dismissal by Superintendent Forcella. Shedd declined to answer any of the questions put to him on that topic.

Absent from the meeting were Forcella, his two sons, Dan and John, who play for Ray, long-time Cape Athletic Administrator Keith Weatherbie, and Coach Ray.

Early in the rally, a motion to file a statement with the School Board in support of Ray passed unanimously, with Booster President Tim Thompson designated to read it during Tuesday’s board meeting. When asked if he was comfortable reading the statement, Thompson replied he might not have the honor because he expected a vote for new officers later in the meeting would remove him.

Later, Thompson, who was not perceived to be a strong Ray fan, was, in fact, voted out of office. Two Ray supporters, Dave Reid and John Doherty, were elected president and vice president, respectively.

Kertes threatens to quit
Just a few weeks after coaching his team to its second consecutive girls swim championship, Kerry Kertes surprised the rally by announcing, “I’ll resign as teacher and coach” if Ray is done. “I’m very, very tired,” Kertes said, “of two or three unhappy people, a vocal minority” driving away “good people.”

Several people asked Shedd about the evaluation process and how it was conducted, a question he wouldn’t answer. Kertes addressed that directly, saying he’s never been evaluated as coach, and only for 20 minutes as teacher. “No one’s ever told me if I’m a good coach, no one’s ever told me if I’m a good teacher,” Kertes said.

Kertes said he told Shedd, “it’s a very lonely job being a coach at Cape Elizabeth. Even when you win, it’s not enough.”

Bob Brown, another well-known and respected local basketball coach, spoke at the rally. Brown, who coached the Cheverus boys to the Class A final game this year, also spoke earlier in the year at a hearing on behalf of Bonny Eagle coach TJ Hesler. (Hesler was suspended by Bonny Eagle administrators after disciplining a player for inappropriate conduct during a
game. After sitting out two games, Hesler was reinstated, but resigned at the end of the season.)

Brown earned a standing ovation with a rousing speech that had most in attendance ready to lace up the sneakers and take to the court for him. Brown said that Ray is one of the most respected coaches in the state, and his firing “is almost a joke. No one can believe it.”