SULLIVAN TWP. — Winning isn’t everything after all.
Merle Simmons led Black River’s softball team into uncharted waters. The Pirates were one out away from the Division III state semifinals last spring and were district runner-up in 2011.
That wasn’t enough for the school to keep him on the job though. Simmons he was out as coach Wednesday despite compiling a 41-14 record in two seasons.
“We appreciate what Merle has done for us, but we have decided to go in a different direction,” Superintendent Janice Wycoff said.
Black River administrators were vague when it came to explaining why Simmons, who is boisterous yet popular with his players, was not retained. Athletic director Bruce Lorincz acknowledged division among parents was a factor, but he said that was only part of the equation and refused to elaborate.
School board president Bruce Goff said the process for employing coaches involves a one-year supplemental contract being recommended by the athletic director to the superintendent, who then must further recommend it to the school board.
Lorincz declined to say whether he made that recommendation, and no one else would say, either.
Goff said a recommendation for Simmons never reached the board level. The board has the power to take another look at possibly hiring Simmons, but that bid was shot down 4 to 1.
“Evidently, there were some things (detractors) weren’t happy about, so the superintendant and treasurer (Jody Weidrick) came to the board and said they were not going to renew him,” said Goff, whose daughter Taylor was an All-Gazette catcher for the Pirates last spring.
“There were some communication issues with parents and players and the administration,” Lorincz said. “Things were done and we didn’t know they were done. With Merle, either you love him or you hate him. There’s no one in the middle.”
Simmons declined to comment on the situation. He stressed a belief the program was heading in the right direction under his guidance and added, “if any other school wants to win, give me a call because I’m about winning.”
Simmons’ replacement is expected to be named at next week’s school board meeting.
“He got a raw deal, period,” former board member Mike Gannon said. “The man did a good job. I don’t like his bedside manners because he’s brash, but we basically almost went to the Final Four with four to five girls ... He did it the right way.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.