Westmoore wrestling coach Kevin Casula couldn’t stay at Moore Public Schools any longer.
He resigned from his post last Tuesday, two days before the team’s district duals, because he felt he was being disciplined for doing his job: coaching kids.
MPS sees it differently. Superintendent Robert Romines doesn’t want to set a precedent that allows coaches to subvert the district’s decisions regarding athletic events. When athletic events are canceled, he said that’s final. Even so, he wanted to make clear the resignation was Casula’s decision.
Casula’s departure comes as the Jaguars are entering a crucial part of their season, and the circumstances that led to the parting of ways are even more peculiar.
The dispute between the two parties surrounds the Geary wrestling tournament, not only the most prestigious meet in the state but one of the best in the country, on Jan. 6-7.
It snowed Friday, on the weekend of the tournament. Romines decided to cancel school and halt travel to any athletic events until 10 a.m. Casula said he never received that text but was made aware of it by assistant coach Dustin Finn, who has since taken over as head coach.
Finn told him at 5:28 a.m. Friday, as the team was meeting to leave for the tournament weigh-in, which started at 8 a.m.
Casula reached out to Geary Superintendent Todd Glasgow, who told him the tournament was still on schedule. At that point, Casula got in touch with MPS Athletic Director Brian Fitzgerald, who remained firm with the decision to not allow travel until 10 a.m.
Casula went into his wrestling room to confront a group of disappointed wrestlers.
“I told them they couldn’t go because we won’t make the weigh-ins,” Casula said. “Five or six of them asked if they could get over there themselves, could they still wrestle. I said, ‘That’s on you.’ Their parents would make that decision.”
Trey Painter, Brandon Johnson and Shayne Flandemeyer wouldn’t pass up the opportunity. Painter and Johnson rode with Painter’s father, and Flandemeyer found a ride of his own.
Casula said he had always intended to go to the tournament anyway, even if his team wasn’t able to make it, just to watch. He got to Geary High School around 9:30 a.m and went down to the mat to coach. He didn’t think to let anyone know that they were wrestling as individuals, not as a Westmoore team.
“Looking back on it, maybe that’s the one thing I could have done differently,” Casula said.
This continued Saturday, with Casula posting updates on the team’s Facebook page. He said he never received any communication that he had done something wrong until he returned to school Tuesday after taking a personal day Monday.
It was during his third-hour class that Principal Mark Hunt talked to him outside his classroom. Casula said he handed him a letter that informed him of a disciplinary meeting concerning his conduct at the tournament. It said he was “non-compliant to district personnel.”
The next day, Casula met with Fitzgerald and Hunt.
Casula said Hunt was “pressuring him into saying what he did was wrong.”
Casula said the two administrators told him everything was OK until he started coaching the kids, and Fitzgerald decided the punishment would be a suspension and a letter in his personnel file. Casula said he asked if there was an alternative and Fitzgerald said no.
Casula needed some time to think, and he and Fitzgerald met again Thursday. Casula said Fitzgerald told him that in light of his good track record, they would take away the suspension, but they remained firm on the letter.
“I felt they had railroaded me,” Casula said. “Unless the letter went away, I wanted out.”
Casula said Fitzgerald offered to change some of the wording, but the “non-compliance” part stayed in. Casula thought that would impact his opportunities to get another job in education, so he decided to resign.
“It’s odd that they pushed it to such a formal place, instead of just keeping it behind doors,” Casula said. “It’s not a situation that we face all the time.”
That being the case, there is no rule preventing what Casula did. Romines said even in light of the situation that there won’t be a rule added, it’s just “common sense.”
“When a decision is made to cancel school and activities, it’s very simple; school is canceled and activities are canceled,” he said. “When a directive is given, whether it be a coach, teacher or district employee, that directive needs to be followed.”
Even if Casula didn’t tell the kids to go, didn’t drive them himself and the only interaction he had with the kids was doing what he’s paid to do, Romines said it was still wrong.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop [kids from going],” Romines said. “If we have a teacher telling kids, ‘It’s up to you all if you want to go. I’m going to be there,’ that is sending a message that we’re going to go ahead and participate in this event … It’s the same thing as a stamp of approval.”
Casula sees it differently. The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association rules don’t allow parents to be on the mat, meaning a coachless wrestler could not only be at a competitive disadvantage but also could be in physical danger, as well. An example would be an injury that a wrestler decides to fight through, like a concussion, when a coach would be able to notice something was wrong.
“If I’m at fault for taking care of kids, I’m OK with that,” Casula said.
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