It was standing-room only during the Montgomery School Board's meeting Tuesday evening. Alumni, parents and students gathered together to support Craig Weaver and his coaching style, which they say is tough for a reason. Still others in the audience supported the board's recent decision to open up Weaver's position as the Montgomery High School softball coach due to allegations that he has bullied players.
Weaver's coaching career spans two decades at the district. In addition to coaching girls basketball, softball and tennis, Weaver has also worked as a substitute teacher. His 2010 softball team was a PIAA?Class A?runner-up.
Fourteen students alleged that Weaver had bullied them this past spring. As a result, the board opened Weaver's position as softball coach.
"The district is very proud of Mr. Weaver's accomplishments, and we encourage him to apply for the position when we start taking applications for spring sports," said Jody L. Budman, board president.
Budman refused to say more, noting that it is illegal for school board members to discuss personnel issues in an open meeting. However, those in attendance were only too happy to voice their own perspective. As the board sat in silence, about 10 locals came forward to voice their opinions. Many had prepared statements beforehand, and a handful of alumni drove several hours to defend their former coach.
Gretchen Ransey drove from Harrisburg to defend Weaver. She said what would be echoed over and over by Weaver's former players: the man was like a father to her whose tough lessons inspired her to become a better person.
"His lessons are mentally and physically tough. They're meant to be. The lessons he teaches are instilled for life," Ramsey said.
She noted that she had spoken with her former coach just three weeks ago, when he called her to give her a pep talk during a moment when she had lost her confidence.
"I was not sure if I had the strength to keep going for myself and my child. Then I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize, and it was Coach Weaver. He just told me hello and said 'Your father felt like you might need a pep talk,'" Ramsey said.
Stacey Neill, another one of Weaver's former players, also defended the man who she remembers as someone who always "put people first."
Neill, a former gymnast, strugged with eating issues in high school.
"So every lunch period he would call me down into his office and sit and watch me eat, to make sure I actually ate something. He made me eat or I wasn't allowed to play," Neill recalled.
Greg Sauers, Jr., who has coached with Weaver in the past, said Weaver was one of the best coaches he ever worked with.
"He gets a lot out of these girls because he expects a lot out of them. And they carry that with them their entire lives," Sauers said.
"He is a life coach, first," he added.
However, some in the audience were concerned that Weaver was teaching his players the wrong message.
"We need to recognize that coaching tactics are changing, and our focus should be on putting the kids first. We need to remember that there's no bullying that is acceptable," said Kennith Harrer.
According to Harrer, this is the third time Weaver's coaching style has given rise for concern.
"Fourteen girls came forward; those fourteen girls wouldn't lie," said Jason Rupert, athletic director for the district.
"Maybe it's not such a bad thing to open the job up after 20 years," he added.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that she had been "pro-Weaver" for 20 years.
"As a coach myself, I think over time he has stepped over the line to becoming a bully. There's a positive way to coach and a negative way, but bullying is never appropriate," she said.
"I think it's time for him to step down," she added.