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School coach calls foul on principal

His son couldn't be benched, a baseball coach says.

Published April 24, 2007


CLEARWATER - The trouble began early last season after Countryside High School baseball coaches benched a player who batted .077 and struck out seven times in 15 at-bats.

After that, the player's father started "harassing" the coaches about playing time, said former Countryside assistant Tracy Paulton.

And it wasn't just any parent. It was the school's principal, Gary Schlereth, Paulton said.

"The issue with the principal is all over his son not playing as much as he wanted," Paulton said.

No way, said Schlereth.

"This is not true," he said. "I have not confronted any coach out here about my kid's playing time."

Paulton hasn't backed down. A few weeks ago, he said, he filed a complaint against the principal with the school district's Office of Professional Standards, which investigates possible employee misconduct.

Paulton said the principal harassed the coaches with daily questions about his son's playing time.

Schlereth "abused his power," said Paulton, an off-campus coach who resigned as a Countryside assistant after last season and is now at Seminole. "I don't want him to be fired. I just want him to know that what he did was wrong."

The district confirmed Monday that the baseball program is under review amid allegations of misconduct.

School Board spokeswoman Andrea Zahn would not comment about the investigation or whether Schlereth was a part of the review.

Paulton and former assistant coaches Jeff Ciszkowski, Dan Witowski and D.J. Coles and former head coach Darnell Coles said they have all been interviewed by the Office of Professional Standards.

Paulton traces the problem to the decision to bench Nick Schlereth last year.

"We made a change and Gary Schlereth did not like that," Paulton said. "That's when he started harassing coaches. We just couldn't take it anymore."

Another assistant coach, Richard Ranick, resigned in the middle of last season and is now a teacher in St. Augustine.

Witowski quit once the season concluded.

"I didn't want to be a part of the problems with the principal or the parents anymore," Witowski said.

On March 14, head coach Darnell Coles resigned because of time issues and problems with "out-of-control parents," he said. Coles' son, Jared, is an outfielder for the Cougars.

Ciszkowski resigned later that week for similar reasons.

Schlereth said county athletic director Nick Grasso was at the school late last week and interviewed current baseball coach Jeff Davis. Schlereth said neither he nor any of Countryside's administrators were interviewed and added that he wasn't aware he was a subject of the review.

Schlereth said any time when a parent is the principal it's going to be tough on the student-athlete because everyone is going to think that he "doesn't earn what he gets."

"If he wasn't good enough to be on the team, they should have not kept him on the team," Schlereth said. "I don't see what he does at practice. I don't go to practices. I go to the games to support the team."

Schlereth said he wasn't aware that the coaches were having problems with parents.

"In the past, some parents have helped coach," he said. "If there was a problem, it was not brought to our attention. A lot of times, coaches try to handle it themselves."

But James Devins, a current assistant coach, said trouble has been brewing with the team's parents for two years. He said coaches try to put the best players on the field, but a group of parents want their children to play, no matter what.

"There is a certain group of parents who don't want to leave those decisions to the coaching staff and, in some sense, want to influence the decision and give insight based on seniority and not on talent," Devins said.

"It was an issue last year ... and it just came to a head this year."

Bob Putnam can be reached at or at (727) 445-4169. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at or at (727) 445-4174.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 14:48:20]

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