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Martins Ferry Coach, School Board Member Clash

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank - Martins Ferry City School District Board of Education member Brian McFarland, left, and Superintendent Jim Fogle discuss a dispute between a coach and an incoming board member during the Nov. 9 board meeting.

MARTINS FERRY — Tempers flared during the November meeting of the Martins Ferry Board of Education, with some members having the impression that an incoming board member overstepped his authority with a coach.

As a result of the general election this month, James M. Agnew, David A. Bruney and John Nagel were elected to the board. Current members Brian McFarland, Bill Suto and Scott Ballint are concluding their terms this year.

The board considered going behind closed doors Nov. 9 to address two complaints against public employees. Board member Brian McFarland said the complaints were against girls’ basketball coach David Reasbeck and himself. McFarland said he wanted the complaint against him addressed in a public forum.

McFarland said the issue involved a varsity girls’ basketball game. Reasbeck reportedly received a communication from Agnew alleging that McFarland was “the reason kids don’t get along” and that McFarland was influencing Reasbeck’s coaching decisions.

“Have I ever approached you about influencing your basketball decisions?” McFarland asked Reasbeck, who responded “no” and said McFarland had never pressured him.

McFarland said the board could now choose to go into executive session regarding a complaint against Reasbeck by an incoming board member. Board members noted Reasbeck also had filed a complaint against the incoming board member. Reasbeck said he was unsure if he filed a formal complaint.

“I just brought it to their attention, what happened. I don’t know if that’s a complaint or not a complaint,” Reasbeck said.

According to the communication being addressed as Reasbeck’s complaint, later provided to The Times Leader, Reasbeck said Agnew approached him and attempted to instruct him how to conduct games.

“Told the guy I don’t care who he is, no one is going to influence what I do,” Reasbeck wrote, adding that Agnew also appeared during a practice. “I’m not gonna be able to deal with this every week.”

Board members were divided over whether the matter should be addressed in a public or private forum. Member Nick Stankovich pointed out that the individual making the complaint against Reasbeck was not present. He said the board should review and determine what action should be taken and if any policies were broken.

“I think board members should be board members and leave the coaches alone. Let coaches coach,” Suto said. “It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t even understand why we’re here,” Stankovich said.

“In my opinion, this should have been handled through the athletic committee,” board member Chuck Probst said. “And brought to the athletic director.”

“When my name was brought up … then it becomes a board issue,” McFarland said.

Stankovich said it seemed an incoming board member was attempting to pressure Reasbeck, which could be damaging to Agnew’s credibility among staff and coaches.

“Mr. Reasbeck, you should have got every coach in this district to show up at this meeting with you,” Suto said.

A board member suggested an athletic committee meeting might follow the school board meeting.

“I know it’s the board’s decision to go into executive session, but I also thought … this should be an athletic board issue,” Superintendent Jim Fogle said. “I believe any further discussion, that’s where it needs to take place.

“I think Mr. Reasbeck was more upset on how he’s going to continue as a coach for the remainder of this season or the next four years and feel the pressure,” McFarland said.

Stankovich said the matter should be addressed.

The board took a vote regarding whether to go behind closed doors to discuss the matter further. Ballint, Probst, Suto and McFarland voted no and Stankovich abstained. Stankovich and Ballint, who are both members of the athletic committee, remained with Fogle and Athletic Director Mark Cook and Reasbeck after the board adjourned. They asked the media to leave, then left the room to talk when the media remained. Afterward, Fogle said this was not an official athletic committee meeting and, because a student was involved, he had no comment.

The Times Leader requested all the complaints discussed during the meeting. Fogle later provided a copy of a communication from Reasbeck describing the encounter. No other documents were provided.

Agnew was contacted the day after the meeting.

“I thought we had a good conversation,” he said regarding Reasbeck, adding that he watched the board meeting when it was livestreamed online. “I was shocked. That’s all I can say right now. I was really shocked. … I didn’t put pressure on him at all. As far as I know we’re friends. I was surprised what transpired there. I was shocked.”

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