By MALCOLM HALL
PERRY TWP. - David Riggs' legacy received another blow Friday as he was bypassed for head wrestling coach at Perry High School.
The longtime coach lost his bid for the job to Brent McBurney, a 1998 Perry High graduate.
Riggs, who earlier this month was suspended for three days without pay when questions arose about how booster club funds were being handled, had asked for the job, but did not want the two top administrators of Perry Local Schools to interview him for the position.
McBurney, 25, has been an assistant wrestling coach at the high school since 2001. He is not a member of the school's teaching staff. He was hired by the Board of Education as head wrestling coach Friday, and will be paid a yearly stipend of about $6,900. The vote was 4-0. Board member James Casey was absent.
"We are really happy with Brent being named head coach," said Superintendent John Richard. "He has experience here as a wrestler and assistant coach. I think he automatically has (the) respect of the kids here."
McBurney was captain of the Perry High wrestling team during his senior year. He also was a state championship wrestler in 1997.
"He has the respect of the wrestlers now and the wrestling community," Doug Edwards, board president, said. "Brent is a state champion, and I think he will continue the excellence of the wrestling program."
McBurney, who holds an associate degree from Stark State College of Technology, operates McBurney Concrete.
Riggs had been head wrestling coach since the mid-1980s when the program was among the best in Ohio. In recent years, Riggs was an assistant coach for the program.
Shortly after Richard started as the district's superintendent this school year, issues surfaced regarding Riggs' involvement with money raised by a booster club that supported the high school wrestling program. Riggs was suspended from his teaching job earlier this month. He was reinstated and has been teaching building trades at the high school.
The head wrestling coach job became vacant after Brian Dolph resigned in late September. At the time, Dolph and Riggs were serving a paid suspension.
When applying for the head coaching job, Riggs requested that Richard and Assistant Superintendent James Hodinka not take part in the job interview and selection process.
Riggs' attorney, Gary Corroto, stated in his written request last week that Richard and Hodinka "may have a conflict of interest" because they suspended Riggs. Both Richard and Hodinka were present when Riggs received his three-day suspension notice Oct. 5.
Corroto said that his client would likely be the most qualified candidate seeking the head coaching job.
But, "Gary Corroto was not elected by the Perry Township residents to make that decision, this board was," said attorney Mary Jo Shannon Slick who represents public school systems in Stark County. "He is entitled to his opinion."
Shannon Slick was at the Friday board meeting when McBurney was hired.
Many credit Riggs with building a wrestling program that is among the premier in the state. During the previous school year, Perry finished second in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I wrestling tournament. St. Edward's High School in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood placed first.
"If you put that decision to the people, I am pretty confident who the people of Perry Township would want as their wrestling coach," Corroto said. "That would be Dave Riggs. I know that Dave has been like a mentor to Brent. I don't think he has Dave Riggs' qualifications. I know Dave is disappointed he did not get the job."
Corroto said that the matter may be subject to legal action.
"If he was passed over for the head wrestling coach job based on that letter of reprimand, and the letter of reprimand, in Dave's opinion, contains mischaracterizations of fact, I guess it could form the basis for a dispute," Corroto said. "There is recourse for that."
When the wrestling season starts in November, no one is certain if Riggs will continue to be an assistant coach. School officials will accept applications for the assistant positions.
"We will have to go through the process of hiring assistants," McBurney said. "A large majority is up to me. I have talked to Dave throughout the whole process. We plan on utilizing him as much as we can."
School officials raised concerns in a letter of reprimand over Riggs' handling of money generated from wrestling clinics and club activities staged at the school. These activities were operated through a booster club that supports the wrestling program.
Riggs, according to school officials, appeared to have had a huge amount of control over the booster club checks.
The Police Department is investigating those booster club records to determine if there is fraud or criminal misuse of funds.
It is not certain if there will be a booster club to support the Perry High wrestling program this season.
"That depends on if people are wanting to form a booster club," Richard said. "In terms of our booster clubs, there are guidelines we have as a district. We have no officers of the wrestling booster club."
McBurney said that he is not certain if he will hold instructional wrestling clinics.
"At this time we have not talked about that," McBurney said. "We are just anxious to get the season started; different clubs and clinics that we will hold is yet to be determined."
Reach Repository writer Malcolm Hall at (330) 580-8305 or e-mail: [email protected]