Boys cross country may get new coach
The Eastern Camden County Regional Board of Education tabled the appointment of a new head coach for the boys cross-country team after parents and students expressed their concern with the possible change.
After serving 28 years as Eastern’s cross country head coach, John Shea’s future leading the team is unknown. Casey McAleer, the current assistant coach and Eastern history teacher, stepped forward and applied for the position.
According to athletic director Phil Smart, coaching positions are posted every year. It just so happened a second candidate applied for the position.
“I would like to know why a coach with 28 years of service and dedication to this school might be let go,” parent Jean Caruso said, before the board tabled the appointment.
Board solicitor Ron Sahli said detailed matters dealing with personnel cannot be discussed in a public setting.
According to Superintendent Harold Melleby, Smart and principal Robert Tull conducted the interviews and made the recommendation to replace Shea.
“Having a coach in the building is an advantage,” Melleby said. “It’s been a preference. This has not been an issue because, for many years, coach Shea has been out of the district. But there are advantages, in general, to having coaches within the building.”
Melleby said that was not a factor when the recommendation was made and the interview process proceeded as normal.
He said the positions have to be posted and “the person who steps forward, who is on staff, has every right to apply for the job.”
“Coach Shea is still coaching at Eastern. He is coaching two other teams” and he is not leaving the coaching staff at the high school, Melleby said.
Shea, also a teacher at Voorhees Middle School, will continue to coach winter track and boys track at Eastern.
Michael Twist, a senior and team captain on the cross country team, said Shea pushed him through middle school to try out for the team his freshman year. He said when he started at Eastern he was not the best runner.
“Shea told me ‘if you stick with it I will take you to the championships your senior year’ and that ended up coming true. I owe it all to Shea,” Twist said.
“Whether you were first or last, you still mattered,” he said, adding Shea was the reason he is running in college.
But parents and other students were concerned that with a new coach on deck the scholarship opportunities are limited. All parents at the meeting agreed that Shea has more connections with his experience.
“Colleges don’t have the budgets in running that football coaches have,“ Caruso said. “I need those connections. Michael is going to college because of Shea. A college called him out of the blue that he didn’t even apply to. I want that to happen in two years for my son.”
The board unanimously approved tabling the final decision until the next meeting.
Board president Bob DeCicco said the board’s decision is not an endorsement for Shea nor should it negatively reflect McAleer’s chance at the position. The board wants to take the time to review the situation before approval.
Smart was concerned the team will not have a coach for a few days during the start of the season.
The fall season begins Aug. 15, while the next meeting is not until Aug. 21. He said a solution is currently unknown.
Although Shea did not attend the meeting, he was humbled by the support shown by his team.
“I am proud of the student athletes for supporting me during these trying times,” he said in a statement submitted to The Sun. “I do not like drawing attention but this is all about what I believe. I coach and teach from the heart and the life skills that I teach carry them forever. I coach people to be winners and successful in life. The sport comes complete when they understand. Their leadership skills have a lot of value to our community.”
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the administration building, 1202 Laurel Oak Road, Room 203.