Williamsburg-James City County Schools' denial of Paul Wheeler's request to remain as head football coach at Lafayette High is proving to be unpopular with Rams players and parents.
Some expressed their surprise and disappointment Friday and Saturday upon learning that Wheeler will not be back for an 11th season. Rams' player Brandon Fetty gave them a forum to express their feelings when he created an "I Support Coach Wheeler" Facebook page Friday night.
By Saturday afternoon, 45 people had signed on as members. Fetty said he doubted the action would change the mind of W-JCC administrators but said it was important for him and others to show support for the former coach.
"I guess (I was surprised) at how quickly people joined, but I know there's a lot of support for Coach Wheeler," said Fetty, who played on defense and special teams this past season. "I was talking to a football player from last year, Ben Lisle.
"We wanted to see what we could do, although you can only do so much with something where people (at W-JCC Schools) have already made up their minds."
Wheeler announced his resignation to his players on Thursday, but said he was doing so against his wishes.
Wheeler said he did indeed, amid controversy, submit a resignation to the central office in October, but changed his mind upon the completion of the season.
He resigned in October, he said, because he disagreed with the reaction of Dianna Lindsay, assistant superintendent for academic services, to a Lafayette football parent's complaint of how Wheeler treated his son during a practice. Wheeler said that Lafayette principal Anita Swinton and athletic director Dan Barner had investigated the parent's complaint, found it to be without merit, and told him to continue coaching.
Wheeler said that the parent then talked to Lindsay, who in turn told Barner she planned to dismiss Wheeler as coach. Wheeler said he sent his resignation to the central office via e-mail, effective at the end of the 2010 season, rather than let the situation become a distraction to his team.
But when the Rams forfeited two games over a paperwork snafu, costing them a regional playoff berth, he asked to return as coach next season. Lindsay, he said, refused and had a human resources employee inform him on Thursday.
"I didn't want it to end like it did this past season," said Wheeler, who guided the Rams to 82 wins and a Division 4 state title during his 10 seasons. "I felt for the kids."
It appears most players wish Wheeler could return as well. Several said Wheeler had a lasting influence on their lives.
"You get a little nervous playing for him because he's an intense guy," junior quarterback Connor McGinty said. "When you do something right it feels good to know that you made him proud.
"We really looked up to him, because he taught us to play disciplined, focused and smart. It's going to be weird playing without him, but we're still going to play the way he taught us to play."
Said junior kicker Jacob Vaught: "This football team is a tight-knit group, and we all feel it's stupid he's not able to come back as coach. He was a one-of-a-kind coach, and was like another dad.
"I remember when he told us about the forfeits and missing the playoffs that, 'The measure of a man is what he does at his lowest point, and that this will be our finest hour.' "
Said junior lineman Ted Clark: "Some of the stuff he taught us will stick with us for the rest of our lives. I'll always remember when we got kicked out of the playoffs, he told us life is tough and not always fair, but that we'll walk out of here with our heads held high.
"Hopefully, he's doing that. We'd all like to have him back."
Several team parents interviewed said they also wish Wheeler was allowed to return. Like Chris Marcotte, whose son Andrew played last season at Lafayette and is now playing on scholarship at VMI, they said he had big influences on their sons.
"Coach Wheeler would grab my son by the facemask at times and yell, to make sure he was totally focused on what was being said. In a way you cringe, but you also feel proud because there's maturing of your child for the realities of the world we live in.
"Andrew just graduated the Rat Line at VMI this weekend, and the lessons he learned from Coach Wheeler helped give him the resiliency to get through. Andrew said he didn't mind being yelled at by someone who knew how to use authority, especially someone who will cry with you after a loss."
Said Mike McGinty, Connor's father: "I'm disappointed he won't be back. I feel badly he's not going out on his own terms and under these circumstances.
"He's done a lot for my son and other young men in teaching them values that go way beyond football."
W-JCC Schools refused comment because Wheeler's employment is a personnel matter. Barner said he does not know when the interview process will begin to find Wheeler's replacement.
Vaught and Connor McGinty said they hope offensive coordinator Andy Linn will be selected as the new coach because the players look up to him as they do Wheeler. If Linn is selected, he will be replacing a man whom he's assisted for the past 10 seasons, and for whom he has enormous respect.
"To me he was the best example I could have as a head football coach, friend, mentor, father and husband," Linn said. "The things I learned from Paul, I can only hope to pass on one day.
"I'm just glad I am truly blessed by the time I got to spend with Paul Kenneth Wheeler."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun