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WCA Swim Coach Facing Removal

An angry, frustrated crowd of Westchase swim team members and their parents descended on the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center on Sept. 5.

They were looking for an explanation why Coach Alex Richardson had disappeared from the pool deck two weeks prior. Westchase Community Association (WCA) President Ruben Collazo greeted the filled activity room. “We’re not looking backward,” he said. “We’re not discussing the past or how we got to this point.”

Instead Collazo introduced Patrick and Kim Piper of Pipeline Swimming, who introduced the club as replacing Coach Alex Richardson’s current TBAC club. Both briefly spoke and introduced Pipeline and its philosophy. Yet when they opened the floor to questions, parents made clear they absolutely did want to discuss how the WCA had gotten to this point.

Parents grilled Collazo about the lack of communication and the association’s failure to consult with them on a replacement team. Foremost, they made clear their support for Coach Richardson and demanded to know what he had done to prompt his removal.

And while board members privately acknowledged that the coach had not been accused of any legal impropriety, Collazo would not share the association’s reasons with parents. “We do not discuss personnel matters in public,” said Collazo, emphasizing it was on the advice of the association’s attorney.

“You can’t treat us like that,” one father called out.

“I have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to not violate privacy,” Collazo countered.

Collazo’s only hint at the problem came when he added, “We feel we need to make a transition to an arrangement that is more professionally done.”

Several parents then spoke, accusing the association of mishandling the matter and defending Richardson. “I understand that valuable input. Thank you,” said Collazo.

Parents responded with hooting and laughter.

Addressing other questions and parents’ charges that the association did not consider other vendors to take over the program, Collazo then clarified that Richardson had not yet been formally terminated. Further, he added that Pipeline was being asked to simply fill in through December, which would allow the association to research other potential swim clubs and get parents’ input.

When Vineyards resident Jonathon Parker inquired which other clubs would be considered as the permanent club, Collazo asked him for his suggestions. Parker, however, stated it was the board’s responsibility to properly identify and invite multiple clubs in order to award a contract fairly. He later added, "The WCA is responsible for representing the interests of Westchase residents in the contracting for goods and services.  Inviting only one vendor, that is the Pipeline team, to tout their program appears to be anti-competitive.  What process [is the association] going to follow to ensure a fair and open competition serves Westchase swimmers?"

Collazo stated formal decisions on Richardson’s employment and the Pipeline contract would be considered at the WCA Board meeting on Sept. 6, the following night, at the WCA Office building on Parley Drive.

WCA Vice President Rick Goldstein, one of three other board members in the audience, then stood and stated that the board was under the impression it had to move quickly to hire a new swim club to preserve swimmers’ eligibility in upcoming meets and competitions. “We were in a time crunch. A decision was made that a change had to be made.”

Goldstein added that the swim program has very low participation by Westchase residents and that most of its members lived outside the community. He acknowledged resident frustration with the club’s use of the pool. While Goldstein acknowledged that some might call for an end to the program, he stated, “We thought, ‘What would be in the best interest of the kids?’”

Referring to the cause of Richardson’s removal and the association’s refusal to discuss it, Goldstein stated, “But we’re also taking marching orders from our attorney.” He added, “We’re trying to do the best we can to try to salvage the program.”

Assistant Coach Jordan Richardson, Alex’s sister, standing in the back of the room, then stated, “I have yet to know what complaints are against Alex,” she said. Referring to his absence, she stated, “We’re missing a very important person here.”

Richardson continued of the scores of parents with their kids in the room, “All these parents here are supporting him.”

Stamford resident John McDonough, the father of two swimmers on the team, stood and offered a timeline and a strong defense of Alex Richardson. McDonough stated that when Richardson was removed from the pool deck two weeks ago, parents were told he was sick before finally being told he was suspended. There was no further communication until parents were invited to the meeting, where the Pipeline organization was introduced. “Personally I’ve watched a thousand hours of swim practice,” he stated. “I’ve seen him coach every single level.” McDonough added, “He taught every level from young to elite and he did it with aplomb.”

McDonough stated that the association was taking complaints from a small number of disgruntled parents who had left the program yet failed to contact the other 60 families in the program that now filled the room. He added he had never seen Coach Richardson do anything insulting, obnoxious, untoward or inappropriate. Stating the association had the responsibility to handle the matter more professionally, McDonough stated, “In the process Westchase has injured the reputation of a good coach.”

He added, “As for the parents behind the charges, congratulations and shame on you.”

The room burst into applause.

A former student of Richardson then stood, saying he had driven home from college to offer his support. When he asked Collazo if he had seen his email sent earlier, Collazo responded, referencing the deputy who was present. “Yes, I saw your email and I was going to have a sheriff’s deputy here.”

When parents shouted in protest, Collazo called the email “very troubling” and challenged the young man to read it. When he did and left off the final paragraph, Collazo challenged him to finish it. The student apologized and concluded with a sentence that stated he expected to receive a response to his email or he would drive four hours from college to attend the meeting.

Parents’ reactions in the room made clear they did not interpret the email as a threat.

“Shame on you, sir,” the young man’s mother said to Collazo, “for calling the cops on my 18-year-old son.”

Collazo added it was one of a handful of emails he and other board members found threatening.

Criticized again for lack of communication and parental involvement in the decisions, Collazo responded, “All that is going to work out.”

Elise Christensen, a young swimmer on the team, then approached the front of the room. Fighting back tears, she asked Collazo, “Have you talked to swimmers yet?”

“No,” said Collazo, “You have the floor.”

“I don’t understand why you did this. We love Alex.” She added, “The parents that came to you are Pipeline Parents.”

When asked by a parent if the board could be convinced to change its mind on Richardson before taking formal action, Collazo again repeated, “I’m not going to discuss personnel matters with anyone in this room.”

Jordan Richardson again emphasized that the board had not yet shared the parents’ complaints with her brother Alex.

When WOW reached out to Richardson, he responded, “At this time I am not able to comment. I may reconsider commenting when things are official. I am sorry for any inconvenience.”

Commenting about the meeting, Greens resident Tracy Christensen, a swim parent, stated, ““The lack of communication from the WCA Board about potential changes to the swim program is concerning.   The proposed changes presented tonight at the parent meeting came across as one sided and there was little regard for the relationship the swim families have developed over the last six years with the coaches.  The Board seemed ready to move in a different direction from the current club, however no reasons were given as to why changes are being considered.” She added, “Proposing only one team to become the new club seemed premature, and I feel like multiple options should be considered, along with input from residents.”

Following the meeting, Goldstein commented, “This was not an easy decision for us and we certainly understand the anger and even the anguish of swimmers and parents. I wish things could be different. And as hard as it maybe to understand, we made a decision on the basis of what is in the best interests of the kids. If you knew what we know you would have a better understanding of why we made the decision that we did. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality, I am unable to elaborate. I wish I could.”

Goldstein added, “Please know that our decision was not made in a vacuum and not totally based on some disgruntled parents’ comments. Look, at the end of the day we have a responsibility to the kids and we made a decision based upon what we believe to be in the best interest of the kids.”

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted Sept. 6, 2018

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