May 4—Hundreds of supporters of Pine-Richland's ousted head football coach Eric Kasperowicz rallied outside the district's administrative office, during Monday's school board meeting, to call for his reinstatement.
The sometimes boisterous crowd broke out in chants of "We Are P-R" and jeered as school directors arrived for the monthly planning session, which included the swearing-in of newly appointed board member Amy Hayden to fill the unexpired term of Ben Campbell, who resigned amid the controversy swirling around the coach's firing.
Among the crowd of supporters clad in green school colors were a number of protesters wearing the bright red garb representing North Hills High School, where Kasperowicz is a teacher.
"We came out here to support Coach K and the rest of his staff and their families," said Cindy Richey, 63, of Ross, who was dressed in the North Hills school colors. "I really don't think they deserved to be treated the way they did. I was really blown away with the firing of the whole staff. It really wasn't right."
Kasperowicz and members of his family attended the rally and greeted well-wishers but did not comment to members of the media.
The school board voted not to extend the coach's contract for another season after a three-month-long investigation was conducted into allegations of misbehavior in the football program that included hazing, bullying, intimidation and "rites of passage."
Kasperowicz has denied that those things occurred under his watch and reapplied for his job.
Kasperowicz's contract was not renewed for a ninth season despite winning four WPIAL championships and two state titles. His record with the district was 85-18.
In a letter to the district asking to be rehired, the coach apologized for his "attitude and behavior," which was cited among the reasons district officials gave for his dismissal.
Pine-Richland school officials have not released specific details about the incidents that led to the firing, but said during an April 20 news conference that dozens of students, coaches and parents were interviewed and that an "in-depth" interview was conducted with Kasperowicz.
Board President Peter Lyons said the decision not to bring the coach back for another season was based on:
—Findings from the investigation
—Documented football program-related events over multiple years during the coach's tenure with the program
—The interview with Kasperowicz
Among the protesters outside the meeting was senior Pine-Richland player Harrison Hayes, who will be playing football at Liberty University in the fall.
Hayes said he never experienced or witnessed any of the things the school officials say occurred in the football program and credits his experiences on the team under Kasperowicz for "getting me into college next year to play football."
"I never experienced that (hazing and bullying) at Pine-Richland," Hayes said. "Nothing more than two friends joking around.
"I don't think our team could have done what they've done together if we were bullies and didn't like each other. Our team loved each other and played as a family."
Hayes said the right thing would be to "get the coaches back in there."
Several families with young children also attended the rally to support the coach.
Stacy Shesler was there with her three children, including her 11-year-old son, Evan, who plays youth football and was "really rocked" by the coach's firing.
"This is so much bigger than football," she said. "I think a lot of people's eyebrows were raised by the way things were handled. If they hired the coaches back, it would be the right first step toward building trust again with the community."
School officials said they are working on ways to obtain public input into the hiring process for the coach, but they are not expected to have public discussions about the position until after the administration has conducted interviews with candidates and made a recommendation to the board for a person to fill the position.
The district's past policy has been to leave the selection of other members of the coaching staff up to the head coach.
Charlie Mill, 18, a senior on the football team, said he and other players came to the rally because of what they believe is a lack of leadership in the district.
"Yes, we would like to see the coaching staff brought back," he said. "But our main goal here is to let administrators and school board members know that we think that it's time for some of them to go."
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, email@example.com or via Twitter .