Fired NIC wrestling coach denies academic violations

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  • Courtesy photo North Idaho College wrestlers, coaches and support crew celebrate after the Cardinals tied Labette College to earn its 14th NJCAA championship in 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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    Courtesy photo The North Idaho College wrestling team is shown in this file photo after it won its 700th dual match in program history, a 19-18 win over Western Wyoming at the Las Vegas Convention Center in November. In the front row, from left, are: Izaiah Duran, Hunter Gregerson, Jacob Frias, Dylan Lockwood, Cooper McCullough, Nicholas Hara, Traeger Abbati, Jake Garrison and Hasaan Hawthorne. In the back row are: former NIC coach Pat Whitcomb, Austin Burrell, Connor Sullivan, Tate Grover, NIC athletic trainer Randy Boswell, Bryce Parson, NIC interim head coach Brandon Richardson and NIC assistant coach Keri Stanley.

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    Rumpler

  • Courtesy photo North Idaho College wrestlers, coaches and support crew celebrate after the Cardinals tied Labette College to earn its 14th NJCAA championship in 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • 1

    Courtesy photo The North Idaho College wrestling team is shown in this file photo after it won its 700th dual match in program history, a 19-18 win over Western Wyoming at the Las Vegas Convention Center in November. In the front row, from left, are: Izaiah Duran, Hunter Gregerson, Jacob Frias, Dylan Lockwood, Cooper McCullough, Nicholas Hara, Traeger Abbati, Jake Garrison and Hasaan Hawthorne. In the back row are: former NIC coach Pat Whitcomb, Austin Burrell, Connor Sullivan, Tate Grover, NIC athletic trainer Randy Boswell, Bryce Parson, NIC interim head coach Brandon Richardson and NIC assistant coach Keri Stanley.

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    Rumpler

Ex-NIC head wrestling coach shares his side of firing action

I am writing the following in response to my firing from position as head wrestling coach at North Idaho College after 22 seasons.

My intent is to be as transparent as possible to the community that has shown me so much support over the last 30-plus years.

First, I want it to be known that this is in no way an attempt to get my position reinstated. My time has come and gone at North Idaho College. I will always be proud and thankful of my time spent at NIC since walking on campus in the fall of 1985.

On Jan. 7, 2019, I was asked to attend a meeting in the Human Resources Office at NIC. I was handed a letter by a vice president and a director in HR.

In a nutshell, the letter said we believe you knew or should have known about an academic integrity issue within the Athletic Department. Even if you didn’t know, this shows gross neglect of your duties.

I want it to be known that I categorically deny any knowledge of academic integrity violations dealing within the Athletic Department prior to the investigation in the fall of 2018.

The letter basically gave me two options.

1. Resign my position and I would be paid the rest of my contract through June 30, 2019. In doing so, I would have to agree to not say anything negative about what has been taking place at NIC.

2. Refuse to resign and be terminated. If terminated, I would receive only two weeks of pay and benefits such as health care for my family.

I refused to resign, as I had done nothing wrong. I will be receiving my last paycheck from NIC on Friday.

During the independent investigation meeting, my attorney and I were read a statement by the investigating attorney representing NIC that directly implicated a head coach from an athletic program other than wrestling dealing with academic integrity violations.

This was either not included in the independent report (I have not been allowed to see the report that my termination was supposed to have been based on.) or President Rick MacLennan is not being transparent with the public about it being only one athletic program being involved in academic integrity violations.

I let it be known to the NIC board of trustees I would meet with them in executive session to let them know what is going on with this situation. My offer still stands.

Now to the real reasons for my termination:

1. In the spring of 2016 we signed an amazing young man from Pelham, Ala. He is African-American and a double amputee. At the time of his signing with NIC, I immediately made a request to the administration requesting better access on his behalf to the wrestling room and campus.

Still to this day, almost three years later, not one accommodation has been made for easier access to the practice room. He has to be carried or crawls up the stairs.

I raised safety and ADA concerns to the administration time and time again. Some of the feedback I was given from the administration was there was no money for this.

Also, we were told to roll out mats on the gym floor after other practices were finished.

There was a main-level room on campus that would have solved this problem. Instead, it was allocated as an off-season workout facility for other sports. The money spent on this facility would have easily covered some accommodation for the wrestler with special needs.

The athletic director told me this was his call and that was that. I continued to raise concerns after this. It was only after this that I started to receive poor evaluations and official write-ups in my personnel file.

I was then told in a meeting this fall with disability services that if I had not pushed so hard in the beginning, accommodations most likely would have been made.

2. An assault took place early this fall on the NIC campus against a female instructor. It was reported to the administration immediately. When I became aware that nothing was being done to protect her safety, I met with a number of administrators and loudly voiced my dismay. As far as I know, the campus still has not been made aware of this safety issue. Having a daughter who attends NIC this is of great concern.

My focus has always been plain and simple: Do what is in the best interest of NIC and the wrestling program there.

I have let it be known for the last three seasons of the athletic director’s intent to drop wrestling and add baseball. Every administrator I approached at NIC assured me that this was not so. Community, just sit back and watch this unfold now.

If NIC wants to add baseball — a sport I would love to see reinstated — then do so and add another female counterpart. If it wants to send a message of retaliation against standing up for what is right then drop the most successful wrestling program in the NJCAA.

Brandon Richardson (interim head coach) is doing an incredible job under adverse circumstances. But the only reason of not bringing back (assistant) coach Keri Stanley to help run the program would be the assassination of the program.

My estimation is at the conclusion of the season a request to kill the wrestling program and add baseball will be made.

As a community of taxpayers, this is your college. This administration works for you. Don’t let them double talk or confuse you with white noise.

Ask two simple questions:

1. Has there been any accommodations made as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) for accessibility to the wrestling room at NIC?

2. Was there an assault against females on campus in the fall of 2018?

If the administration is not totally transparent with you as a community, I have concrete evidence dealing directly with this that can be brought forward.

As I was told by a spokesperson from NIC, "Pat this is not personal. It’s just business."

The blatant disregard of the safety for people with disabilities and females at NIC is not just business to me. It’s personal!

North Idaho College will now choose one of two paths moving forward.

The first one, a continued path of intimidation and retaliation toward students with special needs and females on campus.

Or a second one, a path to change the current culture and practices that exists in the administration, thus ensuring the safety and fair treatment of all people on the campus at NIC.

Please feel free to contact or comment at nicwrestling.com where more information will continue to be posted.

Never be afraid to fight for what is right. No matter what the cost.

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

COEUR d'ALENE — Former North Idaho College wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb said Wednesday that his recent firing, in the middle of his 22nd season, was not for academic integrity violations, as NIC officials asserted.

Instead, Whitcomb believes he was fired for speaking out over possible rights and security violations the college was committing against NIC students and employees. Among them: Lack of ADA-mandated access for a double-amputee wrestler, and what Whitcomb describes as an assault of a female instructor that occurred last fall on campus that hasn't been addressed with safety measures.

"I have issues with how administrators have handled things going on down there, and that's why I'm no longer there," Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb said he has no knowledge about academic integrity violations and the first he heard of that was last fall when the investigation was launched.

"I want it to be known that I categorically deny any knowledge of academic integrity violations dealing within the Athletic Department prior to the investigation in the fall of 2018," he wrote in a statement he issued Wednesday.

Regarding the incident involving a female instructor, Whitcomb said the suspect was not trespassed from campus, as requested.

However, Laura Rumpler, NIC spokeswoman, said that a review of the situation revealed the incident, with a student in the instructor’s classroom, was determined to not be an assault.

"Our director of Title IX, student conduct and security made numerous requests to speak with the female instructor but she chose not to respond," Rumpler said. "When the college became aware of the situation we immediately took actions to address the situation and took appropriate safety mitigation measures.

"I can confirm that this instructor-student incident is completely unrelated to any employment decisions made by NIC."

Rumpler said she could not release any more information about the incident, citing privacy reasons.

Rumpler was asked to respond to Whitcomb's beliefs that his concerns over access for a wrestler and the instructor-student incident not being addressed were the actual reasons for his termination.

"I can confirm that Mr. Whitcomb was terminated late Friday, Jan. 11, as a result of the findings of our investigation, but I cannot give any additional details regarding that decision," she said. "Employees have greater flexibility to make disclosures about their own public employment information than do public agencies."

Whitcomb said he was handed a letter by administrators on Jan. 7 that stated leaders believed Whitcomb was aware of academic integrity issues within the Athletic Department.

Whitcomb said the letter gave him two options, including resigning and being paid for the rest of his contract through June 30, 2019. In doing so, he would have to agree to not say anything negative about what has been taking place at NIC, he said.

The other option was to be fired and receive only two weeks of pay and benefits. He chose that option.

"I refused to resign as I had done nothing wrong," he wrote. "I will be receiving my last paycheck from NIC (on Friday). Never be afraid to fight for what is right. No matter what the cost."

Whitcomb said he's also let it be known to administrators for the past three seasons that he believes wrestling will be dropped at NIC and that baseball will be added.

"Every administrator I approached at NIC assured me that this was not so," he wrote. "Community, just sit back and watch this unfold now."

Whitcomb said if NIC wants to reinstate baseball, which he'd like to see, then it should — but it should also add another female sport to meet Title IX rules. He added that he believes the funds are available to make that happen.

"If (NIC) wants to send a message of retaliation against standing up for what is right, then drop the most successful wrestling program in the NJCAA," he wrote.

However, Rumpler said NIC has no plans to discontinue the wrestling program and is committed to maintaining its proud history and success.

"The college is currently conducting a community-wide study to see the viability and interest in expanding our athletics offerings," she said. "This is a study and discussion about expansion of athletics. There is no discussion of decreasing any of our athletics programs."

Whitcomb said his response to the action against him is not an attempt to get his job back.

"This is not about my job," he said. "My time has come and gone at NIC. It's about a culture at NIC that seems to be very vindictive against females and special needs students. There's too many coincidences for them to all of a sudden come after me."

When Whitcomb was asked if he plans to file suit against NIC, he said, "I am in talks with my attorney now about options."

Whitcomb said he was seeking better access to the practice room for wrestler Hasaan Hawthorne, a double amputee, since signing him three years ago. No improvements have been made as he was told that funds weren't available for such a project, he said.

"(Hawthorne) has to be carried or crawl up the stairs," Whitcomb wrote.

Rumpler said NIC takes all requests for Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations seriously.

"Due to federal privacy laws pertaining to students, NIC cannot comment on any particular student requests," she said. "Mr. Whitcomb has chosen to share protected information specific to a student-athlete. I wish we could do the same but we have a duty to maintain the dignity and privacy of protected student information."

Whitcomb said it was only after his accessibility concern was expressed that he started to receive poor evaluations.

"I kept defending myself and finally they jumped on that they thought they had," he said.

Under Whitcomb, NIC won four national team titles as a head coach and one as an assistant. The Cardinals also had 18 individual national champions and 108 All-Americans. He was honored as National Coach of the Year twice and Region 18 Coach of the Year eight times. Whitcomb is a member of the NJCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame and NIC Hall of Fame.

As a wrestler, Whitcomb won national titles for NIC in 1986 and 1987.

Brandon Richardson, in his second season as an assistant coach, will remain interim head coach for the rest of the season.

"Brandon is doing an amazing job against extreme odds," Whitcomb said.

Assistant wrestling coach Keri Stanley remained on paid administrative leave on Wednesday pending the ongoing investigation.

Whitcomb said that during the investigation he and his attorney were read a statement from NIC's attorney implicating a different NIC head coach for academic integrity violations. He said that revelation came despite NIC officials stating that the investigation was for alleged isolated violations and not involving other sports.

When asked if there are any other NIC coaches or student-athletes, in addition to Whitcomb and Stanley, being investigated or if there's been any disciplinary action against them if so, Rumpler said the entire Athletics Department was under review during the investigation.

"Results thus far have determined there were violations of academic integrity predominately within one athletic program, wrestling, and at the employee level," she said.

Rumpler said there are personnel matters and actions being taken both within and outside the Athletics Department, but she couldn't say how many employees other than Whitcomb and Stanley that pertains to.

"Personnel actions may range from corrective action, disciplinary action reported within an employee’s protected personnel file, paid or unpaid administrative leave or change in employment status," she said. "Idaho law does not allow me to share specific details regarding personnel issues unless I have the permission of the employee to do so."

Whitcomb said his offer still stands to meet with the board of trustees in executive session to discuss his situation. He said he hasn't been able to see the report on why action was taken against him.

Rumpler said Whitcomb requested a copy of the report, and NIC is in the process of providing him a redacted version in compliance with Idaho law.

"If Mr. Whitcomb gives written consent, we will gladly disclose personnel information that is otherwise protected under Idaho law as it specifically relates to him," Rumpler said. "He has not given us that consent."

Whitcomb said no past individual or team titles are in jeopardy as a result of the action against him.

Rumpler added: "As this investigation unfolded and we began to act on personnel matters, we proactively reported to the National Junior College Athletics Association that this is a matter pertaining to employees and not student-athletes. The NJCAA appreciated our outreach and they have asked us to keep them informed when all personnel matters are resolved. There has been no mention of student-athletes nor concerns with the success of the student-athletes."

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