Coach Hastings fights for job

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School principal Bill Wehrli is close to naming the varsity boys’ basketball coach for the upcoming season. Three candidates are in the running, including 11-year incumbent Dave Hastings.

On Saturday morning, a manila envelope arrived in the mailbox with no return address or cover letter. Inside was a copy of Hastings’ job application.

Asked if he had mailed the application, Hastings acted surprised. “I did not,” he answered.

Asked if he knew who had mailed it he said, “I do not.”

Neither Wherli nor Superintendent of Schools Dayle Doiron responded to an email sent Saturday asking for comment, nor did athletic director Gina Johnson return a phone message that was left at her house Monday evening.

Hastings first realized his coaching job was in jeopardy last spring when he met with the athletic director. “She said she thought there were some issues and they were going to advertise the position but I would be allowed to reapply.”

Asked why the school wouldn’t simply fire him from his $3,800-a-year job, he responded, “That’s what a lot of people have wondered. I’ve thought of every angle possible.”

Hastings’ application is a 56-page compendium that includes letters and emails from 59 supporters who’ve had direct contact with Hastings, including former players, parents of former players, physical education professors, high school principals, athletic directors and fellow coaches.

It also includes a letter of support signed by every member of last year’s team, together with a sample practice schedule, coaching experience, awards and a list of educational seminars he’s attended, including 10 this year.

One would think Hastings’ if-you-don’t-know-me-here’s-who-I-am approach would make Wehrli take note of his appreciable credentials, but Peter Vearling said he went through the same experience four years ago when he was fired as the school’s softball and girls’ basketball coach.

“I did (reapply) but it was a joke,” said Vearling. “I had similar support emails, letters and stuff and they just ignored it. The whole way they did it was despicable. The man (Wehrli) is not a good leader. He tries to lead by intimidation. He is the definition of a bully.”

One of Hastings’ letters of support was written by Lee Doiron, the superintendent’s nephew, dated October 11, 2013. “I’m still not sure why his position was advertised, other than it was “time for a change” and there were complaints about favoritism toward Edge players, which is disturbingly false,” he wrote, referring to the Edge basketball program that plays in the offseason and is run by Hastings’ wife Alyn.

There have been rumblings that Alyn Hastings has too much influence on the Pioneer boys’ team and the perception that boys’ basketball rates itself above the school’s other athletic programs. There’s also talk that Hastings influenced Jacob and Josh Willis to transfer to Pioneer from Mohawk Trail Regional High School specifically to play basketball.

“Yes (the Willis brothers) did transfer and yes they did play for Alyn,” said Dave Hastings. “My understanding is they had academic issues. I spoke with Fred Redeker, the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach and he felt I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Hastings said eight of the 13 players on last year’s boys’ team had played in the Edge program. “The Edge started out as an AAU program before I moved to the area. I was paying so much for my kids to play I started my own program, but Mr. Wehrli has felt if you don’t play for the Edge you don’t play varsity basketball. We’re no powerhouse or factory. We just give the kids an opportunity to play out-of-season basketball. It isn’t even me. I don’t even watch the Edge, but you can’t stop perception.”

“I recognize the wife issue,” he added. “We’ve taken the step to where she no longer coaches the Suburban League team. If my wife’s too close to it, OK, she’s not coaching this year. She just does the paperwork.”

Hastings interviewed with the principal on October 31 and again on Monday. Two others have also applied, one of whom is Mike Kachelmeyer, according to a source. The identity of the other applicant isn’t known.

“The tough part is that all coaches can be fired at will,” said Hastings. “Obviously there’s a personality conflict for it to get to this point, but I have a difficult time understanding why I have to be put through this process.”

Waving the white flag perhaps, Hastings said, “I need to do whatever the school wants me to do if I want my job back.”

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