Ki-Be basketball coach's departure raises questions

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 6, 2014 

— The departure of Kiona-Benton City's longtime girls basketball coach has some supporters rallying for his reinstatement.

Ki-Be school district officials would not say specifically why Joe Wirtzberger's contract was not renewed this week.

Athletic Director Vance Wing said all he could say is Wirtzberger failed to improve in areas the district had expressed concerns about in past annual evaluations.

"Joe's done a lot for the district," Wing said. "It's not an easy thing to do."

Wirtzberger told the Herald the district said he was too hard on the girls. He said he was offered the opportunity to resign but he refused.

Now some of his current and former players, assistant coaches and others said they plan to attend Monday's school board meeting in an effort to get his removal reversed.

"Joe is more than a coach to us," said sophomore Momo Calzadillas, 16. "He's like a brother or an uncle. He's a family member."

Wirtzberger coached the team for eight years. The team consistently made it to the playoffs, and Wirtzberger was named a coach or co-coach of the year five times in the 1A South Central Athletic Conference. He also ran off-season camps and other player training sessions.

Wirtzberger admitted he is vocal during games but said he was never vulgar or abusive.

"I've never had a negative mark on a coaching evaluation," he said. "I didn't even have one this year."

Interim Superintendent Wade Haun said he could not comment on Wirtzberger not receiving a new contract but said it did not stem from a disciplinary issue and the school board did not make the decision.

Ryan Antos, one of Wirtzberger's unpaid assistants this season, was nearby Wednesday when Wing told the head coach his contract wouldn't be renewed.

"All I heard was that he was too hard on the girls, that he yelled too much," Antos said. "I just found it odd."

Junior Kayzin Holt, 17, said she and other teammates were shocked when Wirtzberger told them he would not be returning. "We were all bawling our eyes out," she said.

The team met with Wing on Thursday to express support for Wirtzberger, Kayzin said.

"(The administrators) just saw him during the games when he yelled," Kayzin said. "They didn't realize that behind it he was supportive."

Wirtzberger's departure is the latest in a series of administrative issues in the district this year.

The Ki-Be superintendent resigned in late January. The school board president got into a confrontation with the girl's wrestling coach in February. And the high school principal recently was placed on paid administrative leave for unknown reasons.

"So much is happening in Benton City," said Bailey Schroeder, who graduated from Ki-Be last year and just wrapped up her freshman season at North Idaho College.

Wirtzberger said he expects that there's more to his firing than just his actions on the court but he isn't holding it against the district.

He doesn't plan to attend Monday's board meeting but has been awed by the support he's received, from phone calls from former players to Facebook posts.

"I didn't realize I'd made an effect on so many people," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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