Parents at Hardin Valley split on controversial baseball drill – WBIR.com
UPDATE 6 P.M. THURSDAY: WBIR 10News obtained the original complaint emailed by a parent on the Hardin Valley baseball team.
It accuses Hardin Valley Academy head baseball coach Joe Michalski and assistant coach Zach Luther of inflicting emotional and physical abuse on March 9, when it claims they told players not to dodge the balls Luther purposely threw at them as a part of a drill.
The complaint calls the drill especially dangerous, and says the writer’s son had already suffered two concussions in the last year. The accusations also claim the coaches often berate the boys with verbal attacks.
“I can’t comprehend why a coach would intentionally put a child in harms way?” it reads.
But parents on the team are split on the nature of the drill.
Shane Parks has a son on the team. He watched a video of the drill, which 10News has chosen not to show out of respect for the players’ families. It shows Parks’ son standing still as the ball strikes his side and rebounds off.
“As a youth baseball coach, I’ve performed this drill on kids that have played for me over the years,” Parks said. “If a batter is willing to ‘wear a pitch,’ it does a couple of things: It gets you on base, and it gets in the pitcher’s head.”
10News reached out to the attorneys representing the coaches, but did not hear back.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services are investigating the claims.
Both Michalski and Luther are on paid administrative leave from coaching.
UPDATE: 7 PM WEDNESDAY: The Hardin Valley Academy head baseball coach put on leave this week was disciplined in July 2014 for allowing his players to walk barefoot across hot asphalt, causing injuries, a disciplinary letter shows.
Joe Michalski was barred from coaching or attending four baseball games in the 2014-15 season as punishment, the letter from then Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre states.
On Wednesday, Michalski was put on administrative suspension with pay for unspecified reasons from his coaching job, a personnel memo states. His teaching duties are not affected.
On Monday, Zach Luther was also suspended with pay from helping coach the Hardin Valley team, a personnel memo states. Luther is a former University of Tennessee player.
The memos do not state the reasons for their suspensions.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the circumstances.
Rob Johnson, spokesman for the state Department of Children’s Services, also said the department “is investigating the situation with the baseball team.”
Johnson said confidentiality laws prohibited him from saying more.
Michalski started teaching in the system in 2011. He also has taught at West High School, records show.
Efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
He was placed on administrative leave from coaching duties in July 2014 while the system looked into an allegation “you used poor judgment in allowing players to “bear walk” across the asphalt, the letter from McIntyre states.
“You did admit that you had your players doing “bear walks” on the track surface and you explained that it was not hot but the friction caused the injuries,” the letter states. “Your poor judgment during baseball drills caused injury to a student athlete, which is a violation of Knox County Board of Education Policy…”
Months earlier, Michalski, who teaches math, had been disciplined after being charged with misdemeanor public intoxication, a Feb. 18, 2014, a letter from McIntyre states.
In that incident, the superintendent said he deemed Michalski’s conduct to be “inappropriate, serious in nature and unprofessional.”
He was given the written reprimand and put on three days of administrative leave without pay. The charge was dismissed after he paid court costs.
Michalski formerly was a coach at Marist College and at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, records show.
He has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a master’s from Baltimore County.
Luther, an education assistant as well as a coach, was instructed this week not to discuss his suspension “with anyone,” personnel records show. Like Michalski, he has been ordered to stay away from the school’s baseball fields and related facilities.
Luther has a bachelor’s degree from UT. He’s worked for the school system since 2014, according to records.
He is in his fourth season as third base coach at Hardin Valley, according to the school.
PREVIOUS STORY: Two Hardin Valley Academy baseball coaches are on paid leave from coaching while authorities conduct an unspecified investigation, the Knox County Schools spokeswoman told 10News on Tuesday.
Carly Harrington responded Tuesday afternoon to inquiries from 10News.
The reason for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office investigation is not being made public.
“All I can say is that there is an investigation underway — nothing else,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said in an email to 10News.
The coaches’ names were not released by the school system.
The baseball team is led by Joe Michalski, now in his fourth season as head coach of the Hawks baseball program. His record stands at 83-30-1, according to the academy.
The team won a District 4-AAA title last year. In 2015, Harden Valley won the AAA-State Baseball Championship.
The Hawks have taken part in several recent scrimmages and are set for seasonal play Thursday against Lenoir City.
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