Parents’, players’ support of ousted coach falls on deaf ears
NORWALK — For Dale Wehmhoff, it has been the worst season of his 40-year hockey coaching career, and he hasn’t even coached a single game.
The one silver lining to come from the Norwalk-McMahon co-op boys hockey coach’s termination-turned-suspension is the outpouring of love and support he has received from players and parents, both past and present.
“That’s something I didn’t expect,” Wehmhoff said. “You think about how long you’ve coached, but you don’t quite realize the true impact you’ve had until you go through something like this and hear from people.”
Since breaking the story Tuesday, The Hour has received more than 25 emails, phone calls and text messages, all in support of Wehmhoff.
Even more have been written to Norwalk Public School’s administration and to the Board of Ed.
Many of those players and parents are angry at the Norwalk Public Schools administration, not to mention the elected representatives of the Norwalk Board of Ed, for not listening to their concerns and blatantly shutting them down when they wanted to be heard.
“Where are we? North Korea?” asked Liz Beeby, a lifelong family friend of Wehmhoff’s.
Wehmhoff, who coached Norwalk-McMahon to the state title game in 1987, and returned to the bench last season, was suspended by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven J. Adamowski on Jan. 6, citing social media posts made before the coach was rehired to take over the Norwalk-McMahon program in 2016.
In his letter suspending Wehmhoff, Adamowski stated, the coach was in “direct and blatant violation of the Norwalk Board of Education Social Media Policy.”
That policy was enacted in 2013, according to an email sent from Brenda Wilcox Williams, Chief of Communications for Norwalk Public Schools, under the title “Use of Social Media Platforms for Communication With Students.”
“The posts were derogatory, but they actually didn’t violate their social media policy because the posts were before he was hired,” said Christine Boyrer, mother of a sophomore hockey player. “The Board of Education should be embarrassed … They have undermined our hockey season.”
Parents are also upset that a single anonymous complaint could force a coach out of his position for something he had done when he wasn’t the coach.
While Williams could not comment on Wehmhoff’s situation because it was a personnel matter, she did say, “The action regarding Mr. Wehmhoff was taken following an investigation and confirmation of the offensive social media posts. It was not solely based on an anonymous complaint.”
That anonymous complaint, however, is what pointed out the Instagram posts Wehmhoff had reposted.
Norwalk AD Doug Marchetti was the first to receive the complaint before the superintendent and then Board of Education.
Still, parents and friends of the program aren’t happy.
Rick Welch, one of the famous Welch brothers who helped put Norwalk hockey on the map in the 1970s, was just one member of the program’s extended hockey family to reach out.
“I was appalled to hear about Dale’s termination,” Welch wrote in an email. “The whole premise that one person hiding behind a keyboard can have that kind of impact on a coach, and someone the kids look up to. I cannot believe that the school system and so called ‘educators’ would allow such a classic case of cyber bullying to occur. They played right into the hands of the one person who had an axe to grind.”
Especially troubling to the parents was the idea that a meme that included the N-word that was reposted has labeled Wehmhoff as a racist in some eyes.
The post, Wehmhoff said, was sent to him by a former player who is African-American.
“Claiming he’s a racist is so absurd,” said Al Ten, another longtime family friend. “He is well-respected by his peers, and those who have played organized sports under him.”
“There is not a bad bone or racist bone in his body,” added John Davidson, another lifelong friend.
In the end, parents say, the players are the ones being hurt the most.
“Coach Dale has done so much for this program,” said Sue Platt, a senior parent. “The ones who are truly punished are our kids.”
Michael Cox, who has been acting in the role of assistant coach at Norwalk-McMahon, summed it up best in another email.
“I think the most profound statement here is you have an entire hockey community vouching for this man, versus someone who hides behind an anonymous email account,” Cox said.