Springstead removed Frank Vitale as baseball coach Monday, two and a half weeks after he was indefinitely suspended while the school investigated whether he made a threatening remark toward a player.
“We’re going to go in a different direction with a different baseball coach,” principal Susan Duval said Monday.
Duval said the Eagles’ nine-year head coach made a comment that “might be perceived” as threatening but did not go into specifics.
But according to Vitale, a junior varsity player regularly tapped and patted players and coaches in a joking manner. After being slapped repeatedly, Vitale said he asked the player not to touch him.
When Vitale bent down to collect some baseballs last month during practice, the player slapped the coach hard on the back. Vitale said he stood up, turned around and told the player, “If you touch me again, if you hit me again, I’m going to punch you right in the chest.”
Vitale said he did not touch the student nor make a move to do so.
“I want people to know: I made a threat towards him not because I decided to make a threat towards him,” Vitale said Monday night. “I had enough of him punching me and slapping me.”
Duval said Vitale might not have meant the threat, but coaches have a responsibility to be good role models.
“We have to be very careful as educators, and I believe coaches are educators,” Duval said. “We’re all teachers, no matter what we do. We want to always present ourselves correctly. It’s important to do that.”
Vitale, who remains a PE teacher at Springstead, said this was his first incident. He said he didn’t report the player’s actions to the school because he wanted to handle the matter internally and show professional courtesy because the player’s father is a district employee.
Vitale was indefinitely suspended March 14 as the school investigated the claims. He said school administrators were quiet after that until Monday, when he was told that he would no longer be the coach.
Vitale said the decision was like “the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders” because it ended two and a half weeks of uncertainty. He has not decided whether he will resume coaching.
Vitale took the Eagles to their second district title in 15 seasons last spring and was named the FACA’s Class 5A, District 8 coach of the year. Two of the school’s three trips to the region tournament came under Vitale, a former New Jersey coach who’s been in high school baseball three decades.
“I guess that doesn’t seem to mean anything…” Vitale said. “I should have been able to get another chance.”
JV coach George Bennett has been the interim coach since the March 15 game against Hernando. Duval said Bennett will remain the acting head coach but does not plan to apply for the full-time position when it is posted. Springstead is 11-3 this season.
Vitale is the second North Suncoast baseball coach to be reprimanded for making inappropriate comments this season. Longtime Pasco coach Ricky Giles was indefinitely suspended by the Pasco County School District for a similar reason before resigning Friday.