Former Chesapeake High School wrestling coach Paul Tolle says the Anne Arundel County school system has not given him a full explanation for his removal from his post last month.
Tolle, who was hired last year, and Chesapeake athletic director Chip Snyder were removed from their jobs while the school board investigates allegations that procedures weren't followed during a December wrestling trip to the Eastern Shore and that the breakdown in protocol could have diminished students' safety.
In a letter issued publicly last week and in phone interviews, Tolle said he did not know he had to complete a field-trip form for the two-day War on the Shore wrestling tournament at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in December because the tournament was placed on Chesapeake's schedule before he became coach. He also said allegations arose that a team member brought alcohol to the event.
According to school system policy, students must complete an instructional field-trip request form at least 30 days before a trip. The form requests such information as total cost to each pupil, mode of transportation and number of chaperones.
"I was instructed that we needed self-transportation forms but nothing else regarding field-trip forms or anything of that nature," Tolle said.
Tolle says he took steps to immediately correct any problems.
More than 50 people attended an Anne Arundel County school board meeting in January to request the reinstatement of Tolle and Snyder.
Tolle said he has not been contacted by the school board. Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier declined to comment specifically on the investigation.
Tolle said with the exception of one wrestler he directly supervised, the wrestlers were chaperoned by their parents at the hotel.
Overnight trips in Anne Arundel schools require one chaperone for every five students and approval signatures from the principal, the regional assistant superintendent, the associate superintendent and the deputy superintendent.
School policy guidelines also state, "Background investigations are required for all overnight chaperones, volunteers and student teachers who have unsupervised access to students either on or off school property."
Tolle said that the investigation also involves a Chesapeake wrestler who was not slated to participate in the tournament. He said that allegations arose that the wrestler drank alcohol at the event.
"Upon returning to school, an investigation was conducted by an assistant coach and me," Tolle said. "In the presence of an assistant principal, the young man was removed from the team, and his parents were advised of the actions."
Tolle says that the investigation is the "culmination of the efforts" to have him removed from his position by supporters of former coach Rick Couch, whose contract was not renewed last spring, and by Couch.
In his statement, Tolle said the school system investigation is "not a one-time incident of any great magnitude. In reality, it is just the culmination of the efforts of a few hurt and angry people to vindicate an ex-coach, and attempt to return him to coaching."
Couch, who served as Chesapeake coach for two years and as an assistant for more than a decade, said that he is no longer interested in coaching at Chesapeake.
He said in a statement Thursday, "I have done nothing to cause the termination of Paul Tolle and the suspension of Chip Snyder."
Snyder could not be reached for comment.
The controversy has caused a black eye for one of the state's premier wrestling programs. And Dawn and Rex Fisher, whose son Seth wrestles for the team, said that the matter has taken an emotional toll on Seth.
"We've seen poor morale since Day One," said Rex Fisher. "And it was caused by the former coach," he said, referring to Couch. "And there are some parents on the sideline that truly believe he should still be the coach, no matter what."
The Fishers say that Couch has attempted to coach the team from the sidelines.
"This has been extremely tough on Seth because Seth is a very committed athlete, he respects the coaches 110 percent," said Dawn Fisher. "And when some of this stuff was going on with some of the kids having to choose between a coach during a match, it was very frustrating for Seth."
Couch acknowledges that he still is close to the program and that he offers "advice to wrestlers if asked."
"I told them, 'Did you really think I was going to leave these kids?'" Couch said. "Some of these kids have been with me for 10 years. They're like family to me. The wrestling world is a different world. We are very close-knit."
But Couch did say that he believes school officials should consider going outside the Chesapeake community for the next coach.
"I feel sorry," he said, "for the guy who comes in next."