H.S. Coach Fired After Post-Game Brawl
DETROIT (CN) - An assistant high school football coach who was fired after separating two head coaches during a giant post-game brawl claims in court that his termination was racially motivated, as all the white coaches kept their jobs.
Vincent Wortmann sued Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), two AAPS officials and the head football coach and athletic director of rival Huron High School, in Federal Court.
Wortmann was assistant football coach for Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor when Pioneer defeated rival Huron High 35-6 on Oct. 12, 2012.
Pioneer's lopsided edge grew even as coaches pulled the starters and put in second- and third-string players.
In the fourth quarter, Huron's head coach Cory Gildersleeve "became upset with the plays being run by Pioneer; in particular he was upset by passing plays by Pioneer when Pioneer held a large lead," Wortmann says in the lawsuit.
It continues: "Gildersleeve became visibly upset and animated on the Huron sidelines, and verbally engaged the Pioneer coaching staff by shouting across the field and yelling obscenities.
"Gildersleeve's unprofessional and inappropriate behavior fueled the passions of his players, and contributed to increased aggression by players on the field."
When the game ended, Wortmann says, the players lined up for the traditional post-game handshakes, and Pioneer head coach Paul Test apologized to Gildersleeve for the late passing plays, which had been called by an assistant coach.
"Despite Test's apology and good will gesture of extending his hand for a handshake, Gildersleeve was enraged and began shouting obscenities," according to the complaint. "He grasped Test's hand and would not release Test. Gildersleeve then began pushing Test, who is physically much smaller, with his forearm and upper body, moving Test backwards while continuing his loud and profane tirade.
"Gildersleeve still would not release Test and showed no signs of ending his physical assault on Test.
"Gildersleeve's assault on Test occurred away from the lines of players and coaches engaged in the post-game handshakes.
"Plaintiff became aware of Gildersleeve's assault on Test on hearing Gildersleeve's tirade and turning to see what was occurring. On seeing the assault underway, Wortmann left the handshake line and moved toward the two head coaches to defend Test against further and potentially more violent physical action by Gildersleeve.
"As plaintiff was leaving the handshake line, and before plaintiff reached the site of the Gildersleeve assault, fighting began between Huron and Pioneer players."
Wortmann says he pushed Gildersleeve once, "to separate him from Test." But he says he "did not hit or strike Gildersleeve or anyone else following the game," though he acknowledges he used loud, profane language.
After the fight ended, Huron athletic director Dottie Davis accused Wortmann of pushing her during the brawl, and Gildersleeve denied that he physically threatened Test, the complaint states.
Based on these allegedly false statements, Wortmann was fired as coach, and his the firing was announced on Ann Arbor Public School's website and in the Ann Arbor News.
"Aware that Davis had made a false allegation against him, for months plaintiff lived in constant fear that he would be arrested and charged at any time," Wortmann claims.
"During the course of the investigation by local law enforcement officials, Davis finally admitted that she had no knowledge of plaintiff making physical contact with her.
"The Washtenaw County prosecuting attorney's office declined to file charges against plaintiff, after determining that plaintiff used limited and reasonable force in the belief that he was defending another person (Test)." (Parentheses in complaint.)
In dismissing the charges, prosecutor Konrad Siller said: "Wortmann's use of force was limited to a shove or push rather than a punch or kick. Moreover, there is no evidence that Wortmann pushed or shoved Coach Gildersleeve more than once," according to the Ann Arbor News. "The available evidence indicates Wortmann's limited use of force was the kind of force that was appropriate and necessary to protect Coach Test," according to the News.
Nonetheless, Ann Arbor Public Schools did not retract the firing or grant Wortmann another hearing. Wortmann believes that may have been racially motivated.
"Plaintiff is a black man. Gildersleeve, Test, Davis, and Green are white.
"Gildersleeve and Test received only short-term suspensions for their respective roles in the incident.
"On information and belief, plaintiff, a black man, was the only adult to be terminated from employment or contractual assignment by AAPS," Wortmann claims.
Wortmann seeks reinstatement and punitive damages for violation of due process, racial discrimination, defamation and emotional distress.
Defendants include AAPS official Patricia Green, Huron High School athletic director Davis, Huron head coach Gildersleeve, and AAPS deputy superintendent David Cosma.
Wortmann is represented by Jeffrey Herron in Ann Arbor, who did not respond to a request for comment.