Springstead reviewed allegations beyond a threat baseball coach Frank Vitale made last month and received almost a dozen emails of support and an apology from the student who led to Vitale’s dismissal, according to documents released this week.
The Eagles fired Vitale on April 2, two-and-a-half weeks after he admitted to saying he would punch a junior varsity player in the chest when the student-athlete smacked him on the back. Vitale, who remains a PE teacher, had repeatedly asked the JV player not to touch him.
Documents released to the Tampa Bay Times through an open-records request to Hernando County Schools included more details on the nine-year head coach’s comments.
Two of the five students who made statements in the investigation took Vitale’s comment as a joke, according to the documents. A third said the JV player, whose name was redacted, “shrugged and laughed it off.”
In his March 15 meeting with the school, Vitale said he was “only kidding and both he and the student left the incident laughing,” according to the employee conference notes. Almost three weeks later, principal Susan Duval wrote to Vitale that his comment “never has a place in your role as a teacher and a coach.”
The JV player apologized to Vitale in a letter, which was included in the investigative file.
“Slapping you on the back is what caused you to be angry,” the player wrote. “I understand that this behavior (from) a player should not be tolerated at all and for that I am truly sorry. …I am very ashamed of myself for letting my excitement dictate my poor actions. I very well understand that a player should never touch a coach other than a simple handshake.”
The documents also show that Springstead examined allegations of “using inappropriate language and directing (or allowing) disrespectful remarks to be made to another student,” according to Duval’s letter.
Vitale denied allegations that he made fun of a player’s weight. He said in his employee conference that he only discussed the issue with the player and his mother. Vitale also denied cursing at a player, according to the district’s notes. The school’s investigative file included no evidence or statements supporting those claims.
Vitale received support during and after the investigation. The district’s documents include emails from nine parents or former coaches, and at least four parents spoke out against the school’s decision at a school board meeting earlier this month. Two current players wrote Duval to support Vitale.
“Vitale lives for baseball and I would hate to see him (lose) his job over something that you could accuse every single coach in the world for,” one player wrote. “Please give Coach Vitale a second chance and take this into consideration.”
The Eagles lost eight of their 13 games without Vitale. Their season ended with 1-0 loss to Lecanto in this week’s Class 6A, District 6 semifinals.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.