Gorman: Gateway goes wrong way
Gateway football players entered in twos, holding hands the way they would for a game, to rousing applause at an auditorium that for its intensity might as well have been Pete Antimarino Stadium and carrying a white sign that read, Save Our Coach.
It might as well have served as an S.O.S.
This was the scene for a school board meeting Wednesday night at Gateway High School. It began with board president Dave Magill telling everyone to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, only to realize there was no flag. The crowd recited the pledge anyway, and when it was over, one woman shouted to repeat the final four words:
And justice for all!
What happened to Terry Smith this week was an injustice, one that should make every WPIAL athletic administrator and football coach take notice, if not action.
Under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility,” the Gateway board reduced Smith's athletic director position to half-time and passed a resolution, effective in January, that no administrator is allowed to accept a supplemental salary to coach a sport.
“To my knowledge, there was never any intention to drive anyone out,” said Oliver (Skip) Drumheller, who joined the board seven months ago. “This was a compromise.”
Or, some say, a conspiracy.
Let's be clear: This wasn't about balancing a budget by saving $57,000. It was about cutting Smith off at the knees, forcing him out as football coach by not only slashing his income in half but also adding insurance costs.
Now, Gateway will have a full-time athletic secretary reporting to a half-time athletic director. The only other WPIAL Quad-A program with a part-time AD is Central Catholic, an all-boys school.
Bill Bailey, a member of the Gateway school board since 1996, cast the lone dissenting vote. The only black member of the board, Bailey inferred that political and racial agendas played a role in the decision.
“It's always been my opinion, generally, that since Terry Smith got that job, there were many who believe he should not be in that position,” Bailey said.
That's no way to treat a football coach who is 92-28 in 10 seasons, with six conference titles and four WPIAL finals appearances. No way to treat an administrator involved in the WPIAL leadership academy and sportsmanship summit, one who has helped restore Gateway's athletic programs to prominence.
“We are in the second-greatest decade of Gateway athletics, only to the '80s,” said Smith, a 1987 Gateway grad. “I'm not fully responsible for that, but I'm part of the reason. There's a mindset that's developed, that success comes from doing the right things, being prepared properly, competing and having great sportsmanship. We work hard and get results from working hard.”
North Hills athletic director Dan Cardone, a member of the WPIAL Board of Control, said Smith “has proved himself to be a very competent and capable athletic administrator.”
“All of my dealings with him,” Cardone said, “are really positive.”
There is a faction throughout the WPIAL, and apparently within the Gateway school board, that doesn't like Smith's reputation as a recruiter whose success has come with the help of talented transfers.
What is inarguable is the impact Smith has made at Gateway. About 80 people spoke on his behalf, including football players past, present and future. Boys and girls, black and white, called him a mentor and father figure.
They noted that Gateway football players have received 21 Division I-A and 19 I-AA scholarships in the past decade, a number rivaled only by Woodland Hills and a sign of Smith's advocacy for athletes and influence with colleges. Former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, Pitt linebackers coach Chris Haering and Central coach Terry Totten were among the 800-plus who attended the board meeting to support Smith, who was touched by the turnout.
That doesn't mean he's not going to fight it. Prepare for this to get uglier, as lawsuits already are being threatened.
Smith called the board's move a “business decision” that he's not taking personally, even though he said the board ignored his offer to cut $115,000 from the athletic budget.
“It doesn't change my love for Gateway,” Smith said. “I love this community, this school district. I love Gateway. No one can ever take away my history here at Gateway, my experiences here — 99.9 percent fantastic — and what's going on now won't change my feeling. I'm going to come to work every day because I love this place.”
The saddest thing isn't that the Gateway board doesn't love Smith back but that it has turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the people it represents, especially the students.
“If you truly understood the impact he has,” former Gateway star Brian Williams said of Smith while reading a letter to the board, “you wouldn't consider firing him. You would try to hire more people like him.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.