By MATTHEW RINK
Parents and student athletes came away from Tuesday's Perry Board of Education meeting with few answers about the direction of one of Ohio's premier wrestling programs and the two coaches who run it.
But they did learn that head coach Brian Dolph, who resigned late Tuesday, will no longer be their leader when the 2005-2006 wrestling season starts in just more than a month.
"They won't let us know anything," said senior Chris Hartley, a third-place finisher in last year's state tournament. "They say there's a gag order. They say it affects people's lives. But they forget about all of these people."
Hartley, standing with a group of 20 wrestlers, watched and waited for answers about why Dolph and assistant coach Dave Riggs had been placed on paid administrative leave by the district.
One parent of a former wrestler has accused Dolph of using excessive force during a practice in January. It is believed that Riggs' alleged involvement in any wrongdoing stems from misuse of wrestling program funds.
More than 100 parents, wrestlers and program supporters turned out to question Superintendent John Richard and the Perry Board of Education at its regular meeting.
"We understand your passion and concern for the wrestling program," board President Doug Edwards told the crowd following a 30-minute, closed-door session at the start of the meeting. "... If it were my former coach, I'd be sitting where you are. Our legal counsel has advised us not to make any comments on the situation."
Many spoke out in favor of Riggs, crediting him with bringing the program to a nationally-ranked status. Riggs coached for 15 seasons before stepping into his role as an assistant in 2003. Some also said his successes outweigh any possible mistakes he may have made.
"I am in 100 percent support of Dave Riggs," said Steve Ramos, a former Perry wrestler and assistant coach under Riggs from 1998 to 2003. "Next to my parents, he's been the most influential person in my life."
Ramos told the Board how Riggs had changed his life and the lives of others.
"Dave Riggs is what's best for kids," said Ramos, an assistant principal at Berkshire High School in Mentor. "Don't lose sight of that."
Ramos won a standing ovation from the raucous crowd.
"They're not only good coaches, they're good people," the 18-year-old Hartley said. "They don't only coach me in wrestling, they coach me in life.
"Riggs is one of the best coaches around," he said. "He checks on my family, my personal life, my grades and who I'm hanging out with. (Dolph) He's quite a person, too. He's a clone of coach Riggs."
Dolph's resignation was dated Sept. 9, two days after Richard placed him on leave. The district ordered Dolph to make no contact with students, parents or wrestling coaches and to turn in all keys and other materials belonging to the district.
Dolph's letter said his resignation was over personal reasons and was effective Sept. 12, but Richard said the district did not receive it until late Tuesday afternoon.
The board accepted the resignation by a 4-0 vote. Elizabeth Edmunds was absent from the meeting.
Richard refused to comment when questioned by The Independent if the district had asked for Dolph's resignation. Dolph did not return calls to his cellular phone late Tuesday.
Richard repeatedly told the crowd that he could not answer questions regarding personnel matters and that he had to respect both men's privacy.
In January, a parent alleged that Dolph "assaulted" his son during a practice. School administrators investigated the allegation. Dolph, Riggs and another coach, Jason Wise, "described that coach Dolph had put (student) in what would be described as a legal wrestling hold that did, would not cause him any harm," according to an unsigned document found in Dolph's personal file, dated Jan. 19, 2005.
The Perry Police Department investigated the allegation twice "most recently Aug. 15 "but came away with no evidence warranting criminal charges, according to Perry Police Chief Tim Escola.
On the same unsigned document, a handwritten note shows that Dolph allegedly used profanity toward the student and would be reprimanded by Perry High Principal Mark Dean, and that he allegedly admitted to "drinking a beer along with other coaches while out to dinner" at the Beast of the East tournament in Delaware.
No district official, including Richard, has said why Dolph or Riggs were placed on leave.
A search for Dolph's replacement as both coach and physical education teacher will begin today, Richard said.
The speed at which the district finds a new coach will "probably depend on the applications we receive," he added.
Riggs, who was placed on paid administrative leave Sept. 14, is still an employee of the district and is allowed to apply for the vacancy, Richard told the crowd. Riggs teaches building trades and construction.
Riggs, nor his attorney, Lee Plakas, returned calls Tuesday night. On Monday, Plakas said that Riggs' suspension was "misguided" and he would be "vindicated of these rumors."
Board member Elaine Campbell proposed to board members that a mentor be appointed until the situation is resolved.
"These young men need someone to talk to "not about personnel "but about themselves," she said.
Still, many came away unsatisfied by the response from school officials.
"We still haven't gotten any answers," said Jacquie Shilling, whose son, Dustin, is a member of the wrestling team. "My son has put his heart and soul into it. And all is for naught is the way they feel right now."
"This is ruining me," Hartley said. "I don't have any motivation to wrestle. Coach Riggs and Dolph didn't do anything wrong."