2 Hardin Valley baseball coaches under investigation for allegedly hitting players with pitches – Knoxville News Sentinel
Two Hardin Valley Academy baseball coaches are under investigation by state and local authorities after they were accused of intentionally and repeatedly hitting players with pitches during a practice last week.
Head coach Joe Michalski and assistant coach Zach Luther have been placed on paid leave from their coaching duties by the school system, according to schools spokeswoman Carly Harrington. Both are continuing their teaching roles at the school, she said.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services opened an investigation on March 10, according to spokesman Rob Johnson. He declined to say who filed the complaint, but it came one day after the practice where Sheri Super, the mother of junior shortstop Ryder Green, said her son and others were hit with baseballs.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office also has opened an investigation, according to spokeswoman Martha Dooley. She declined to discuss the nature of the investigation.
Michalski and Luther did not respond to email requests for comment.
Video of the practice taken from the bleachers and provided to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee by Super appears to show a coach striking players in the batter’s box with pitches repeatedly.
According to Super, the players were forced to stand in the batter’s box while Luther threw the pitches and Michalski watched from first base during the drill. A photo provided by Super of a player’s back shows red marks on his lower left side.
The drill was prompted by a player who stepped out of the batter’s box during a March 8 scrimmage against Webb School to avoid being hit by a pitch, according to Super. No one was allowed to leave the batter’s box during practice until they were hit by a pitch, Super said.
“What makes me angry is that my son has had two concussions since May of last year,” Super said. “What if they would have accidentally hit him the head? At that point we are talking about double vision and cognitive functioning, not whether he has a career playing at Vanderbilt.”
Green has committed to play baseball for Vanderbilt University in 2018.
Super also alleged in a letter dated March 10 to the school principals and interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas that Michalski has “used intimidation” including “bullying, pejorative name-calling, public humiliation and now physical abuse while coaching the baseball team.”
In a timeline she provided to the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee, Super pointed to a string of incidents dating back to February 2015. She accuses Michalski of pressuring an injured player to pitch against advice from a trainer last March, holding players on the field 40 minutes after a 9-2 win against Riverdale High School in April and yelling at players during tryouts in August for encouraging each other for good plays.
“I am not alone in my concerns,” Super wrote in her letter. “There are many parents who feel as strongly as I do that Joe Michalski and Zach Luther should be removed from their coaching positions. At the end of the day, these are children aged 14-18 who are being exposed to emotional and physical abuse and something finally needs to be done.”
Other parents who have complained about Michalski’s behavior include Ken Neely, the father of former Hardin Valley pitcher and current University of Tennessee player Will Neely.
The pitcher was treated for second-degree burns on his hands two years ago after Michalski forced players to perform bear crawls on the hot blacktop track. The injury cost Neely the opportunity to compete in a showcase in New York, his father said.
The doctors who treated Neely’s hands filed the complaint with the DCS, according to his father.
Johnson, of DCS, would not comment on the earlier investigation.
“It’s very clear that he has shown some bad judgment over the years on several different things,” Ken Neely said.
DCS “did interview my wife and she voiced her opinion that she would like to see him step down as head coach,” he said. “Of course, that didn’t happen and the administration at Hardin Valley kind of brushed it off and let him keep his job even though some of the other things he had also done showed that he didn’t have any character.”
Other parents, however, have expressed their support for the coaches to both the school system and the Department of Children’s Services, said Shane Parks, whose son Drew is a senior infielder and pitcher. Parks said his son is one of the players in the video provided by Super.
Parents went to DCS this week to offer support for the coaches and to allow officials to evaluate their players for any injuries, Parks said.
“There isn’t any mental or child abuse going on at practice,” Parks said. “This is a mama trying to get a coach fired and we don’t appreciate it right here before the season.”
Parks said the ball used in the drill was not a regulation baseball but a hard rubber ball used for drill.
“It is intended for this specific kind of drill,” he said. “High schools and colleges around the country are known to teach this drill — not that everyone accepts it. But we don’t have an issue with it and (the coach) was not trying to abuse my son.”