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Rink officials keep skating coach off ice

April 12, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A figure skating coach who gained the support of her students and their parents after she was notified she would be dismissed will not be allowed to coach at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex, according to a letter distributed by the organization that runs the rink.

The statement reaffirms a March decision that would let Erin Benedum go later this month and also would ban the advanced-level skating coach for one year from asking for privileges to coach independently at the rink.

Benedum said the rink managers aren't being held accountable for poor decisions and asked the Hagerstown City Council to step in.

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"I think the City Council needs to take a very active role into where their money is going," Benedum said Monday by telephone.

Kristina Pottol, chairwoman of the Washington County Sports Foundation, said ice rink officials believe the decision is the first step toward rebuilding the figure skating program, bringing in more students and keeping the rink's historically ailing finances in check.

The sports foundation is the nonprofit organization that runs the ice rink, which is owned by the City of Hagerstown. The city has paid annual debt on the rink of about $114,000, as well as annual operating losses of about $6,000.

The April 8 letter containing the decision about Benedum's coaching future in Hagerstown is the latest action in a growing feud between rink managers, coaching staff and parents at the rink.

Rink managers told Benedum on March 21 that they would not be renewing her contract, effectively giving her 30 days notice of her dismissal. Jennifer Kaszubski - who was Benedum's supervisor and the other advanced-level skating coach - also was dismissed.

The decision raised concerns among Benedum's most-competitive students and their parents. They said it would be too difficult to move the students' training to other ice rinks. The students and parents have said the dismissal was unfair.

Pottol said staffing decisions are up to the rink's paid managers, but they consulted with the sports foundation's board of directors in March before deciding to dismiss the two instructors.

"It was a big decision," Pottol said, but it was supported by the board's three-member executive committee in March and again last week after parents and students staged a protest supporting Benedum's request for guest coaching privileges.

Pottol said she believes the staffing decision will help to increase the number of children who can participate in figure skating programs.

"Our mission is to service our community for recreational ice sports. One of these (sports) is ice skating," Pottol said.

She said Benedum's 30 or so advanced-level students were not as many as managers would like.

Pottol said she is hoping to fill Kaszubski's and Benedum's positions with coaches who "understand how to teach the students and grow the business and make it so that it's not 30 students, but 130 students" being taught.

Benedum said that she attempted to bring new programs that would improve participation, but her suggestions - including finding more coaches with higher qualifications - weren't pursued.

Pottol said that some coaches have come and gone, and students have said they don't feel comfortable skating at the rink, and instead skate at more distant locations.

Benedum said she has asked the board to explain its decision to her legal counsel, and some parents are considering hiring their own lawyer, said Brenda Vindivich, a parent of one of Benedum's students.

Vindivich said she and other parents don't believe they are getting the full story from board members. Vindivich said parents also don't feel that city officials are being as responsive as they should be.

"They need to be accountable," Vindivich said. "When you're right, you don't give up."

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