Benton City — The Kiona-Benton City School Board reinstated its high school girls basketball coach Monday night.
But not before one of Joe Wirtzberger's players talked about how he convinced her to play for the girl's basketball team during her weekly visits to a restaurant he owned.
A parent talked about how Wirtzberger was more than a role model to her daughters and how crazy and stupid of a decision it was to not renew his contract.
And a rival coach and friend said he'd really like to see Wirtzberger back on the court next season.
"Yes, I've been yelled at by Joe (Wirtzberger) but that's the game of basketball," said Kameron Jenks, the girl's basketball coach at Connell High School.
Monday's Ki-Be school board meeting had to be relocated to the high school to accommodate the crowd of more than 75 students, parents and community members who came out seek Wirtzberger's reinstatement.
The crowd applauded after the board announced its decision after almost an hour in executive session.
"If he was such a bad coach or role model, why are we doing so much to get him back?" student Jaky Calzadillas asked the board earlier in the meeting.
Public comments went beyond the coach's dismissal and touched on deeper issues within the district. Some called on the district and the community to end the strife and work together. Some were critical of how the district has handled turmoil when it comes to investigations of district personnel and changes in the district's leadership.
"We really love Ki-Be, we just really want to know what's going on," said student Emily Thornton.
Wirtzberger was told last week his contract wouldn't be renewed for another season. District officials would not specify what led to his dismissal, but the coach and his players said they were under the impression it resulted from his yelling at players during games.
Players said Wirtzberger's yelling was never abusive and served as motivation. They and others rallied to their coach's aid, calling on the community to attend Monday's meeting and urge the board to bring him back for another season.
Student Kayzin Holt turned in a petition signed by more than 370 people in the community calling for Wirtzberger's reinstatement. She and other players also said they might not return next season if their former coach wasn't brought back.
"I believe you guys have made a terrible mistake," said player Monica Calzadillas.
Parent Maria Thornton said the issues surrounding Wirtzberger's removal has made her concerned for the actions of adults in the district. She laid the blame on parents, teachers, the school board and administrators for letting things get out of hand and said there shouldn't be any more yelling and finger pointing.
"We need to stop the destruction and build something we can be proud of," she said.
But several still had criticism for how the district has handled issues in the past few months.
One parent said she was frustrated at the different approaches to discipline, with a teacher accused of accessing porn on a district computer still allowed to work and board President Tim Cook still active on the board despite an investigation for his behavior toward a girl's wrestling coach. However, Ki-Be High Principal Wayne Barrett is on paid leave when no one in the community understands why.
Board member Leslie Johnson said the board could not give details because they were personnel issues. However, she said the situation with the teacher is being investigated by the state while the separate issues surrounding Cook and Barrett are being looked into by the district.
Resident Clark Carlson questioned why interim Superintendent Wade Haun was hired and how a permanent superintendent was going to be found. Haun, who previously worked for the Big Print Shop, was elected as a board member in November before stepping down in January and being appointed superintendent by the board.
"Was there no one else in the school district who was qualified? How many people did you interview?" Carlson asked.
Many who spoke, though, said the district needs to stop fighting and do what the students are already trying to do by bringing Wirtzberger back: be positive.
"The students are the ones trying to make a change. I'd encourage the adults to do the same," said student Justin Renz.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald