During their September 17 meeting, board members stated that although their decision may be an emotionally hard one, they had to uphold the district’s policy and do what was right for the district as a whole.
Scott Pennington, whose son Andrew is a senior and a baseball player at Lake High School, was banned from attending any sporting events for one year by Lake Athletic Director Dave Shaffer, after an incident during an Ohio State ACME Baseball Congress tournament in July.
Pennington allowed his attorney, Tom Zraik, of Toledo, to speak for him during his administrative appeal at the BOE meeting.
Zraik, who specializes in special education and disability law, told members of the board that he did not believe the board had the authority to suspend Pennington because the alleged incident occurred during a non-Lake sponsored tournament.
“The Ohio Baseball Congress is not a function of the schools,” Zraik argued. “It is it’s own corporation and it has its own rules. I question whether the board has the authority to suspend a spectator where Lake schools had no control.”
Zraik also questioned whether Pennington’s actions actually violated the district’s policy dealing with spectator conduct at sporting events. Zraik said that Pennington approached Lake Baseball Coach Greg Wilker during the tournament, asking to speak to his son. Zraik said Wilker denied Pennington access to his son resulting in a verbal altercation.
The district’s policy prohibits the verbal abuse, berating, or physical abuse of a coach, official or player. Interfering with play is also not allowed.
“The action, conduct alleged by Shaffer, does not fit the policy,” Zraik said. “Mr. Pennington did not do anything under those rules. The action does not fit board policy. He had heard his son had done something wrong and he wanted to discipline him. This was between a father and his son.”
Zraik, who is a member of the City of Toledo’s Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities, told the board that he felt the suspension was also discriminatory since his client has a disability.
“I feel the suspension itself is discriminatory,” he said. “This suspension, in whole or in part, is due to his disability. His behaviors are a manifestation of his disability. The punishment is devastating to him and his family. The punishment far exceeds what is alleged to have been done in July.”
Shaffer told the board that Pennington has had a history of confrontational behaviors over the last few years.
“We have seen repeated confrontations and abusive behavior,” Shaffer said. “Pennington entered the playing area and abused the coach and then granted his son permission to hit someone.”
Shaffer then argued the team was part of the Lake summer baseball program and the district employed Wilker to coach the team. Shaffer then stated Pennington did interrupt athletic play by his actions.
Zraik argued that although the coach may be employed by the district, it was not a district sponsored event.
“The ACME Baseball League holds control over it. It is not a Lake sponsored or controlled event,” Zraik said. “There was not an inning, a play or a catch that was disrupted. He (Pennington) went to the edge of the dugout not onto the field of play.”
Tim Krugh, board president, said he saw the incident as a clear violation of board policy.
“This one is easy to confirm from an elected official’s standpoint,” Krugh said. “We have seen persistent and escalating conduct at Lake events from him (Pennington) and it got worse in the spring. He has been abusive to coaches and players.”
‘From a personal standpoint, this is a hard decision. I know the family but, I have to enforce the policies of the district,” Krugh continued. “Coach Wilker was disrespected and he deserves our respect. All of our coaches deserve respect. Greg is one of the best baseball coaches in the whole state. To be disrespected in front of the players and parents cannot be allowed. That conduct cannot be allowed to go on.”
Board Member Eric Hirzel said he too knew the family personally but he had to uphold district policy.
“A one year suspension is tough especially when your child is a senior,” Hirzel said. “We tell our kids every day that our actions have consequences and my job is to support board policy.”
The board then voted unanimously to uphold the one year suspension.
Pennington, after the meeting, declined to reveal his disability saying only that “everyone will know soon enough.”
“The board has been given tainted information by Shaffer and Witt (Superintendent Jim Witt),” Pennington said. “Shaffer is using his personal knowledge of my physical and emotional disabilities against me.”
Zraik said he and his client are considering further legal action.
“We are contemplating going to court,” Zraik said. “The suspension is a violation of Mr. Pennington’s First Amendment rights.”