A celebrated boys' track coach in Westwood, Mass., was fired and ordered off school property last week for letting his runners train without wearing shirts. Tom Davis led Westwood High's 4x800-meter relay team to the New Balance Indoor Nationals less than two months ago and had his outdoor team off to a 5-0 start this season when he started hearing about complaints regarding boys going shirtless.
According to The Westwood Press, athletic director Karl Fogel told Davis, who is in the middle of his second year at the school, that although there was no rule against runners showing some skin during practices, local residents did not want to see any.
From there, things got ugly. As the paper reports: According to Davis, about a week after being first informed of the potential issue, some of his runners were running shirtless, and Fogel spoke to them about wearing a shirt. Davis said he used the opportunity to e-mail Fogel and Westwood High assistant principal Sean Bevan in an attempt to resolve the issue. Fogel replied saying the issue had been discussed and that shirts were mandatory, Davis said.
Davis said on Friday [April 29], Bevan once again did not respond to a request for a meeting, and Davis said he warned the team before practice "the administration is adamant against you guys being shirtless." He said they risked being kicked off the team if they ran shirtless.
During the course of the workout on the 75-degree day, a member of the team took off his shirt and tucked it into his shorts. Davis said that Fogel came over in his golf cart and confronted the student.
"In an attempt to get him away from this kid, I said, 'Karl, his workout is almost over, he's not technically running shirtless,' " Davis said.
Davis said Fogel then began to argue heatedly with him and, after asking Fogel to back off, he was suspended. After asking him to back off once again, Davis said that Fogel fired him and ordered him off the property.
"I'm obviously in disbelief, I've never witnessed anything this ridiculous," said Davis.
Westwood Public Schools superintendent John Antonucci says the local media's portrayal of the incident has been based on "no factual information" and issued the following statement: "While I cannot discuss the specifics of a confidential personnel matter, I can assure you that Friday's decision to relieve Mr. Davis of his duties was not the result of a single incident, but rather the regrettable outcome of an on-going discussion. It is my responsibility to ensure that our employees implement programs in a way that is consistent with the overall mission of the Westwood Public Schools."
Westwood's track team, without Davis at the helm, lost its meet on Monday, and several parents of track team members have reportedly requested meetings with the school's administration.
Meanwhile, runners have defended their desire to train without shirts. "Even when it's above 60 degrees, it's very noticeable about how much cooler you are and how much easier it is to run," a member of Davis's team told the Press. "After a point, when your shirt is covered with sweat and just sticking to you, it's just a bad situation. I don't think people understand how hard we're running out there; it's not like we're playing a baseball game and we're sweating. It's much different, and if you don't have the experience of trying to do it yourself, you probably couldn't understand."
Last week, a three-judge panel ruled, 2-1, that former Iowa high school football coach Bruce Wall was wrongly fired two years ago after a 1-8 season. Jesup School District officials claimed Wall did not respond enthusiastically enough to administrators' recommendations for improvements.