RC board listens to Lamb supporters after his termination

ROGERS CITY – Supporters of Rogers City Area Schools head wrestling coach Pat Lamb asked board of education members to reconsider his termination at their meeting Monday.

Around 50 people crowded into the Rogers City High School/Middle School library Monday, a dozen of whom spoke in support of Lamb and implored board members to give the coach his job back. Among them were coaches from other districts, former students, friends and family, and much of the rest of the crowd seemed supportive of Lamb as well.

Lamb also spoke, admitting he’d made a mistake when he took a student’s jacket out of lost and found and put it in the trash. After the meeting, he said he’d done so in a moment of anger because the student owed him money and had been dishonest about paying him back. His actions were recorded on the school’s surveillance system, and the jacket was later pulled out of the trash and returned to the student.

Since then, Lamb had to miss out on coaching his athletes who made it to state finals, which he called heart-breaking, but something he’d brought on himself.

“I’m ashamed of my actions, I feel like a hypocrite because it goes against everything I’ve ever tried to instill in my athletes; to not lie, to be honest, to not steal,” he said during the meeting.

Superintendent Lee Sandy said after the meeting that he’d fired Lamb on March 10, around five days after the incident occurred.

Now, the board wants Lamb to file a grievance before it’ll determine whether to hold a hearing to reconsider his termination. Sandy told the board the district’s attorney had informed him that Lamb, who also worked for the district as a custodian, has to exhaust his options under his custodian’s contract, which is a union position. Until then, the board doesn’t have to offer a hearing, and ultimately could opt against having one at all.

Audience members pleaded with the board to hold the hearing, or reverse the decision to fire Lamb outright, Monday. Those who spoke in his support praised him effusively, both for how well he coached and for the other ways he inspired his athletes. Some read letters from other supporters with similar praise.

Leilani Kortman told the board she’d known Lamb for 15 years since she joined wrestling in 1999, and had participated in other sports Lamb coached as well. He taught her about earning respect and said she eventually earned his as he taught her how to be the best wrestler she could be. He also was dedicated to the school, stepping in to coach other teams when their coaches stepped down and helping in many other ways.

After reading a letter from another coach, Devin Pommerenke said Lamb had inspired him to take life seriously, and after success on his wrestling team Pommerenke went on to take the national championship in college wrestling. Ultimately, the board has the final say on his job, Pommerenke said, and he and more than 30 others who wrestled on Lamb’s team sent the board letters in support of their former coach.

“Our success speaks volumes of what he can do for his student athletes, and I’d like for you to consider that,” he said.

Still others spoke of what Lamb had done for the district and his athletes in his 17 years, saying he inspired his athletes to mature, and he’d been a supporter of wrestling around the region. Bob Centala said he helped him start Alpena Public Schools’ wrestling program, and current APS wrestling coach Chad Bruski talked about how much Lamb had done for the sport and for the community.

Many speakers acknowledged that Lamb had made a mistake, but said they believed the punishment didn’t fit the crime, Lamb included.

After hearing the first round of comments, board President John Krajenta said no one on the board doubted Lamb had been a great coach. At a special board meeting, board members had heard a letter commending the behavior of his athletes at a recent meet.

After the meeting, Sandy said he stood by his decision. He wasn’t surprised by the praise for Lamb, either, but it didn’t change his mind.

“You have to expect that for someone who’s done a good job, who’s been a good coach,” he said. “But he admitted to his actions, and I had to take action because of what he did.”

Lamb said he was overwhelmed by the support that he heard, and that he planned to file a grievance.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.