(CN) – A high school football coach in Iowa should not have been fired by the school board despite consecutive winless seasons, a state appeals court ruled.
The Jesup Community School District terminated the contract of coach Bruce Wall after the 2008 season. Wall began teaching for the district in 1999, and he became the baseball and football coach in 2000.
The J-Hawks football team won a single game that year but improved under Wall, increasing their win total to four in 2001 and six in 2002. An eight-win season in 2003 landed the team in the playoffs for the first time.
By 2004, however, the team slid down to five wins, and then just one each year in 2005 and 2006. Wall discussed how to improve the team in the off-season with the principal, who suggested Wall’s players start weight training and playing track and flag football. Wall noted that state law prohibited mandatory weight training.
After the program bottomed out with zero wins in 2007 and 2008, the district fired Wall from coaching football in April 2009. The superintendent said Wall had failed to discipline the team and could not maintain student interest in the football program.
The school board approved the firing decision, but Wall went to an adjudicator, who reinstated him with back pay, saying that the record did not support the decision to fire him.
Like a close football game, the momentum swung the other way when Iowa’s district court in Buchanan County reversed the adjudicator’s decision, ruling that the firing was properly based on ineffective program leadership.
Wall took the lead in the most recent ruling by the Iowa Court of Appeals, who cited the consistent participation numbers, ranging from 34 to 46 players on the team during Wall’s tenure.
“The athletic director testified almost half of the boys in high school were out for football,” Judge Larry Eisenhauer wrote for the court. “Additionally, players testified at a hearing in support of Wall, and a petition supporting Wall was generated by football players and signed by players and other students.”
“We note participation in athletics is voluntary and if the students do not wish to participate in off-season weightlifting, Wall’s lack of effort to promote it is not the cause,” he added.
Judge Mary Tabor dissented from the two-judge majority, noting that Wall’s teams were outscored 736-74 in 18 consecutive losses in 2007 and 2008.
“There is no hint in this record that Wall’s firing was arbitrary, unfair or stemmed from a petty vendetta,” Tabor wrote. “In fact, the athletic director told the board that because she and wall had been friends and colleagues for nine years, she probably gave him more chances than she would have extended another coach.”