SIDMAN – How does the reigning District 6 coach of the year go from leading the top-ranked team in the state to an unbeaten season in February to losing his job in July?
That’s what supporters of Bill Bassett would like to know.
Bassett said he was blindsided when told on July 6 that he had the option to resign his post as Forest Hills’ junior high wrestling coach.
“I could have picked a million ways that meeting could have gone and I never would have picked that,” he said.
A school board meeting on July 9 drew a crowd of about 65, according to Mainline Newspapers, with many in attendance expressing support for Bassett.
The coach helped found Ranger Pride Wrestling – an offshoot of the Forest Hills elementary wrestling program that has produced some of the nation’s top young wrestlers. Among those are Bassett’s two sons and the three sons of his cousin and fellow RPW founder John Miller.
Bassett said 13 of his wrestlers qualified for the state tournament and more than 80% of his team members made the honor roll.
“It was the best year a junior high team could have possibly ever had,” he said. “I had zero problems with anyone.”
Forest Hills Superintendent David Lehman issued a statement addressing the situation as well as ongoing concerns involving varsity coach Jake Strayer and the Millers’ son that have caused a rift in the local wrestling community.
It reads, in part:
“The Forest Hills School District has received several verbal and anonymous correspondences both positively and negatively characterizing the wrestling program. In an attempt to resolve these issues, the District has conducted interviews, held meetings, led investigations, and hired supportive services to help identify program strengths, weaknesses, and to provide guidance on how to successfully move the program further, maintain stability of the program, and move the program’s focus back to the student athletes. During the interviews, statements were made regarding the Junior-Senior High Schools coaches’ inability to work together as a group and the need for some participants to keep their options open. Unfortunately, the program was placed at an impasse. As a result of these findings, the District opened the Junior High Wrestling Head Coach position.”
Lehman stated during an interview that the district and Strayer supported Bassett in winning the coach of the year award, with Strayer writing a letter recommending him for the honor.
Lehman was asked what eroded that support to the point that Bassett could not be retained.
“It seemed like we were in a position where they weren’t going to be able to work together,” Lehman said. “We thought it might be best to look at opening up the position and see what options are there.”
Bassett has his own theory. He has been linked to the varsity coaching opening at Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
He believes that Forest Hills leaders gave him the option to resign – with a letter of recommendation for another coaching position, he says – in the hope that he would take the Crimson Crushers job, with the Millers’ sons following him, thereby ending the controversy at Forest Hills.
“They basically said you did an amazing job as a coach, you’re an amazing dad, you’re an amazing role model for the kids. We’re going to give you the option to resign,” Bassett said. “I told them, ‘You’re going to have to fire me.’ ”
Bassett, who is a teacher in the Greater Johnstown School District, said he had no desire to coach at the high school level.
He said he would have been content to remain as the Forest Hills junior high coach for years and had looked forward to having Strayer mentor his sons.
Although he previously stated that his sons and the Millers’ sons could end up at Bishop McCort or a national prep powerhouse such as Wyoming Seminary or Blair Academy, he now says he doesn’t expect that to happen. He’s unsure if he could bring himself to reapply to be the junior high coach at Forest Hills.
“It would be a really hard decision for my family and I,” Bassett aid.