For the second time in as many weeks, a high school coach has been given a hefty suspension because of a controversial incident that occured during a practice. However, unlike Spain Park (Ala.) coach David Shores, this coach didn't make contact with the player himself. Instead, South River (Md.) head coach Steve Erxleben has been sidelined for failing to follow administrative procedures.
According to Mike Peters of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Md., Erxleben will be suspended until Sep. 20 after an Anne Arundel School Board investigation found that Erxleben had failed to file the required paperwork after one of his players was hospitalized following an injury in practice. As both The Capital and The Baltimore Sun reported, Erxleben has not been allowed at team practices since Aug. 24, after the initial incident, and was told of his further suspension by South River principal William Myers. Erxleben's punishment was ultimately decided by Anne Arundel County Public Schools superintendent Kevin Maxwell. Here's how the different sides reflected on the penalty in The Capital.
"It was a rough six days," Erxleben said. "I deserved it. I fully support it. ... "In the end, it was my mistake, administratively, not filing the report. That's my fault. The board did what they felt is right, and I support that because it was my fault. The No. 1 thing is we care about these kids. If we go 0-10 or 10-0, we're going to finish exactly where we started."
"There is no question that Mr. Erxleben is a dedicated and passionate coach who cares very deeply about his players," Myers wrote. "That passion and dedication will not subside in the next three weeks, and I have no doubt that he will bring it back to the team in all aspects of his responsibilities when he returns on Sept. 20."
The suspension comes despite a committed letter-writing campaign by the parents of South River varsity football players, who said they wanted the head coach to return to the team without punishment.
While Erxleben immediately accepted all punishments sent his way, Shores fought back defiantly against allegations he was responsible for a physical incident with a player that landed him on paid leave.
In a statement released last Friday to the Birmingham News, the same day that Spain Park kicked off their season with a 20-9 loss to Grayson (Ga.) on the road, Shores claimed he was attacked by one of his players and that he and his coaches sent the player home as soon as the conflict was quelled.
Here is Shores' complete statement:
"I am saddened, shocked and disappointed by the handling of this entire situation, including the fact that I have been placed on administrative leave.
A student-athlete on my team lost his cool and attacked me during a physical football drill at practice on Tuesday. I did not retaliate or otherwise fight back. Other coaches pulled the student off of me and we sent him home.
Apparently the board decided that an investigation of that incident was warranted, and it suspended the athlete and placed me on administrative leave pending the investigation. If the board conducts a proper and unbiased investigation, it will learn that neither I nor anyone else did anything to justify anyone being placed on leave or suspended or anything else.
I was and still am willing to speak to the family and the player and work through this issue in hopes that the student-athlete could once again participate with his team-mates [sic]. No investigator or attorney has contacted me at this time, and I have not been notified of the details of the investigation.
I understand that the school board's attorney has attempted to place every Spain Park football coach and every other employee under a gag order, and I have been told he has literally threatened them with their jobs if they talk to me. Hopefully this will be over soon and we can get back to our lives and back to focusing on educating these students and playing football.
If not, the Spain Park students and our football team will be the ones that suffer, and I will not stand for that because I care for these kids, their well-being and our school. I expect to be reinstated soon."
The aftermath from Shores' suspension spread on Sunday, when Spain Park athletic director Gena Morris resigned, specifically citing the handling of Shores' suspension as the reason for her departure.
Here's what Morris told the Birmingham News:
"I don't want to be a part of something that doesn't make any sense to me," Morris said. "I don't know if David is innocent or guilty. I think he's innocent, but the fact that I haven't been involved is troubling. I'm sad about it. ...
"I felt like this is what somebody wanted - the athletic director not involved in the situation. I'm the one who reported the incident and one of the first people the kid talked to, but I have not been involved at all and I think I deserve more than that. I think my record deserves more than that."
The investigation into Shores' incident continues apace, but the Hoover City School Board has yet to announce when it may levy an official punishment against the Spain Park coach.
Even if Erxleben isn't thrilled with how his case turned out, at least he knows when he can return to coach his team. At the moment, that's a much better scenario than the one Shores faces at Spain Park.