Northern Lehigh basketball coach fired
TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Surrounded by fellow teammates of the Northern Lehigh High School boys' basketball team, senior player Michael Hofmann Jr. explains to the school board why it should retain Richard Oertner as head coach. The board ultimately decided on a 6-3 vote to oust Oertner from his position.
The fate of the Northern Lehigh High School boys' basketball coach has been sealed.
The school board, on a 6-3 vote on Monday, agreed to rescind the appointment of Richard Oertner as head boys' basketball coach for the 2010-11 school year.
Directors Raymond Follweiler, Gregory Williams, Gary Fedorcha, Donna Kulp, Natalie Green and board President Edward Hartman voted to rescind Oertner's appointment. Directors Mathias Green, Lauren Ganser and Lori Geronikos were opposed.
Last month, Oertner was cited with two driving offenses by the Slatington Borough Police Department for allegedly transporting one of his players on the roof of his vehicle. Oertner was cited for careless driving and unauthorized persons and devices hanging on vehicles.
Surrounded by family, players, and members of his coaching staff, Oertner again offered an apology to the board, and said it's been "a long month-and-a-half."
"I'm still hopeful that this can be resolved in a way other than me losing my job as head boys basketball coach," Oertner said. "I'm just hopeful you can look at the overall picture and allow me to keep my position as head boys basketball coach."
Resident Mary Surdovel, a parent of a student in the district, said she believes the matter is a safety issue.
"I feel the board needs to evaluate the safety of children both outside and inside of the classroom," Surdovel said. "I believe it is only fair to rescind Mr. Oertner's appointment as boys basketball coach."
Resident Art George Jr., said he has observed Oertner's work over the past 10 years firsthand.
"The players and parents of the Northern Lehigh basketball program realize a mistake was made," George said. "We all agree coach Oertner should retain his job."
George then asked the board to take into account Oertner's track record with the program.
"As a board member, you have to take into consideration his past accomplishments," George said. "As you render your vote, know that your vote impacts these kids and the other kids coming up through the program."
Resident Ed Ziegler then asked those who were in support of Oertner to stand up and be recognized. Nearly everyone in attendance stood up in support of Oertner.
Senior player Michael Hofmann Jr. gave a heartfelt speech in support of Oertner.
"Look at coach Oertner's record, and the relationships he has formed with his players," Hofmann said. "In his 10 years of coaching, only one person has not gone to college."
Hofmann then read off phrases from the district's mission statement and applied each of them to Oertner.
"Learning is a lifelong process, and in my opinion, everyone deserves a second chance," Hofmann said. "I truly believe Northern Lehigh could not ask for a better person as coach."
Resident John "Jack" Bechtel said he doesn't question Oertner's commitment to the program.
"I question his judgment at times," Bechtel said. "I think over the years he has shown poor judgment in how he deals with his players and the press."
Before the vote, Ganser cautioned those in attendance that the board was faced with a difficult decision brought on by the actions of Oertner, and urged her fellow board members to take into account all the factors before it made its decision.
"The people leading this district are not to blame for the incident that Mr. Oertner's poor decision has left us with," Ganser said. "We all make mistakes, but we all get second chances."
After the vote, Hartman attempted to lighten the atmosphere.
"I hope for everyone's sake, the players especially, we can all come together and work this out," Hartman said. "We're sorry to see you leave."
Ganser suggested that the district attempt to provide "some sort of counseling" for the "disappointed students."
"We basically rocked their world," Ganser said. "We took away something that was really important to them."
Approached after the meeting for his reaction, Oertner declined to comment, but did offer a written statement.
"I want to thank the board members who voted in support of me this evening," Oertner said in his letter. "I appreciated their confidence. I am very disappointed in the outcome tonight after 10 years of coaching the team at Northern Lehigh without incident."
Oertner said he "made a mistake in July and apologized."
"Does the punishment here fit the mistake I made? That I guess is for others to judge. A lot happened since then, but I can't remember before ever reading headlines in the newspaper about a person receiving two summary traffic citations."
Oertner said he "wanted to remain the basketball coach here because of the kids, and they are what I will miss the most."
"This is a good group of young players and really nice hardworking kids and they were the reason why I opted not to resign in the first place," he said. "I appreciated their support, the support of their parents, and many other people in and around the community over the past month. I only wish these players the best for their upcoming season and I wish the new coach much success."
Oertner said he "wasn't sure what was going to happen (Monday) evening and had talked about it with my dad."
"He said if it doesn't work out, walk away knowing you did your best," he said. "It was a privilege to coach the student-athletes at Northern Lehigh for over a decade, and I truly did give it my best."
The board's action was in response to the unsafe transportation of a player by Oertner.
The incident occurred as Oertner was traveling along Shadow Oaks Lane on July 28 when Superintendent Michael Michaels and several school board members observed the unidentified player on top of Oertner's vehicle, said Police Chief David Rachman.
The police department received the complaint, filed by the school district, on Aug. 3, Rachman said.
As a result, the board last month unanimously agreed to table a motion to rescind the appointment of Oertner from his position as head boys basketball coach. Oertner was originally reappointed to the position April 12.
Hartman said at that time the board tabled the motion "due to an ongoing investigation" of Oertner's unsafe transportation of a player. Michaels was not in attendance due to the death of a family member earlier that day.
Oertner issued an apology to the board at that time, in which he declined to accept the board's offer to resign, but said he would be willing to donate his salary next season back to the school or be placed on probation.
This past season, Oertner guided the team to a 19-6 record and Colonial League title, the team's third in four seasons.
For his career, Oertner has a 162-98 record, and his team won the 2007-08 District 11 2A Championship.