Emotional pleas get Ki-Be coach reinstated

BENTON CITY, Wash. -- Monday night was the first public school board meeting for Kiona-Benton School District in a month. It was also the first meeting since the girls' high school basketball coach had been let go. It made for more than an hour of emotional pleas, from not only the girls but the community, to get their coach back - and it worked.

"I believe you guys made a terrible mistake," said a Ki-Be girls basketball player.

Last week, Coach Joe Wirtzberger was let go, without warning. The school gave him an ultimatum: resign or be fired. He chose the latter.

"If the girls love him, the community loves him, the parents didn't complain, we didn't complain, then why?" asked Jacky Calzadillas, a player on the team. It's because, according to some reports, he was too hard on the girls.

"Heat and pressure are required to form a diamond, the strongest and most beautiful thing on earth. A man who cared enough to risk his neck to apply some heat and pressure on our daughters was recently fired," said Julie Rheinschmidt, a parent of a player. "He did not put too much pressure on my daughter."

"Show me a coach that doesn't yell, and I'll show you a coach that doesn't care," said JJ Calzadillas, a coach who works with Wirtzberger.

The eight-year Ki-Be coach was not in attendance on Monday night, but more than a hundred students and parents were. It's the latest in a string of problems plaguing the district, and the board heard about them all.

"So let me get this right, our middle school teacher is under investigation, but allowed to come back," said Teddy Brian. "Our principal is under investigation and not allowed to work and there's you (pointing at Tim Cook) who is under investigation but is here tonight?"

Tim Cook, the school board president, is under investigation after the girls wrestling coach filed a restraining order against him. Between his problems, the high school principal on paid leave, the superintendent's resignation and now Coach Joe's firing, Monday's meeting was rough.

"We love Ki-Be," said one student, "We just really want to know what's going on with our school."

Cook did address the fact the board couldn't discuss any of their recent personnel problems in public. He said, "as soon as we can come up with something, we'd love to share it."

That means the board did not address any of the public's questions. Monday night's meeting was about listening to concerns.

After the meeting, the board went into executive session. It was unplanned and in direct response to the public outcry during their meeting. They voted unanimously to rescind Coach Wirtzberger's termination. At this time, it's not known if the coach will return.