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Parents hold rally at ice rink in protest of recent changes

April 07, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Haley Hicks said she's been ice skating for six of her 10 years, and four of those have been under the tutelage of coach Erin Benedum.

"I try to do my best to do whatever I can. I'm rushing my school work - I do whatever I can to get to the rink," Haley said, describing her love of ice skating.

"If Erin can't be my coach ... then I'm probably going to stop skating," at least competitively, Haley said.

Haley and about 10 other youngsters and their parents gathered at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex Wednesday afternoon, some holding signs asking for their coach to be able to continue coaching at the rink.

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Benedum and rink skating director Jennifer Kaszubski were told in late March that their positions were being terminated. Kaszubski's job was terminated immediately, and Benedum was given 30 days notice.

Parents and their children who held the impromptu rally in front of the rink said they had planned to attend a 7 p.m. scheduled monthly meeting of the rink's board of directors, but the time had been unexpectedly changed to 5 p.m., and most of the parents and skaters missed the meeting.

They had hoped to express their dismay over the dismissals and ask for guest coaching privileges to be extended to the two dismissed staffers, said Ginger Pembroke, 40, of Hagerstown.

Two parents who were at the rink because their children were skating at the time were able to attend the meeting.

Debra Shepherd, 53, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she and another parent told the board members, "all we want is these two coaches to have guest privileges," which would mean the coaches wouldn't be paid by the rink, but would be allowed to use the rink.

Shepherd said she thought the changing of the meeting time appeared to be a way of preventing parents and children from speaking against the staffing decision.

While the ice rink is owned by The City of Hagerstown, the organization that leases the rink from the city and controls rink operations is the Washington County Sports Foundation Inc.

Barbara Martin, reached by phone Wednesday evening, said she is a board member of the sports foundation and attended Wednesday's meeting.

Martin said she was told the meeting was moved to make room in the schedule of another board member, who was celebrating a wedding anniversary.

"When I found out the reason, I wasn't too happy," Martin said. She said she didn't find out the meeting time had been changed until about 4:15 p.m.

Martin said the board did not vote to approve the two coaches' dismissal, but rather usually leaves those decisions up to the rink manager, David Brandenburg.

"We heard everything after the fact," Martin said.

Martin also said she didn't necessarily oppose the dismissals because the rink is trying to boost the number of rink users in an effort to get the rink's budget closer to breaking even. Martin said it's not clear that Benedum and Kaszubski were helping the rink's bottom line.

Martin said she was open to the possibility of granting guest coach status.

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