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Tim King has the community — and the truth — on his side

Region 4's Board of Education has picked the wrong dude upon whom to flex its systemic muscles, choosing to threaten likable Valley Regional/Old Lyme football coach Tim King.

Not only has the board, with dizzying levels of arrogant overreach, decided to take on the most popular man in town, but likely has no legal standing to remove King as the program's head coach.

The two-minute drill version of events: Players, parents and now some school personnel say that King is under pressure from the Region 4 Board of Education to either resign or be fired for his alleged involvement with an independent football league team featuring players from the school's program.

Parents and players said that King's comments to The Day in a story last month about independent league football were being used against him. King referred to himself as the "general manager," but said he couldn't coach.

Neither Superintendent Brian White nor board members are returning phone calls on the matter.

Sources within the Region 4 system say there is no language in King's coaching contract that allows the school system to dictate King's choices outside of school. The directive telling King not to coach — which King followed — is both heedless and toothless.

I spoke to three superintendents with previous backgrounds in athletics who said that while coaching contracts may differ semantically throughout individual systems, the general rule is that coaches are free to pursue options as they choose outside of school provided they are fulfilling their coaching obligations to the school and not breaking CIAC rules.

"I would hope there's some mutually agreeable solution to this," one superintendent said. "In our system, I'm not allowed to be arbitrary and capricious. I've got to follow what the coaching contract says. I don't think I'd have a leg to stand on."

Another superintendent said: "I wouldn't be in a position to tell (King) he couldn't coach those games no more than I could tell him he couldn't work at Dunkin' Donuts after school."

Parents and players said King's involvement with the independent program was tangential at best. Team parent Barry Cox, whose son, Jack, is the Valley/Old Lyme starting quarterback, said Friday that King "sat there in the bleachers or in a lawn chair with a mask on and watched."

Cox and other parents said no football equipment from Valley or Old Lyme was used during the independent league experience. Cox said King's potential punishment here is "disproportionate to the perceived offense."

Mr. Cox is correct.

If King wants to fight this, he'll have ample support, not to mention a relatively new due process law for high school coaches that was enacted July 1, 2004. It reads in part:

"Any local or regional board of education acting directly, or through its duly authorized agent, that terminates or declines to renew the coaching contract of an athletic coach who has served in the same coaching position for three or more consecutive school years shall inform such coach of such decision no later than ninety days after the completion of the sport season covered by the contract.

"Such coach shall have an opportunity to appeal such decision to the local or regional board of education in a manner prescribed by such local or regional board of education. Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a local or regional board of education from terminating the coaching contract of an athletic coach at any time (1) for reasons of moral misconduct, insubordination or a violation of the rules of the board of education, or (2) because a sport has been cancelled by the board of education."

Perhaps Region 4's board would call King's actions "insubordinate." But without true violation of the coaching contract, termination proceedings would be baseless — and to use Mr. Cox's word "disproportionate."

Then there's this: Is this honestly a fight that superintendent White and the board want to continue and embrace? A petition in support of King has more than 1,000 signatures. King's popularity will lead to long memories come election time. Most thinking folks don't generally appreciate arrogance and extremism used against a man who has delivered a state championship, sent scores and scores of kids to play in college and has the imperishable, universal respect of the community.

I've been at this for 30 years. Sports, like politics, often produce lively debate and very definite opinions about their dramatis personae. I have encountered two sports personalities in our corner of the world — two in 30 years — about whom I've never heard a discouraging word: Tim King and Brian Crudden.

Crudden coached football and wrestling at Windham for many years. An honorable man. And so is Tim King.

Again: There is no legal or ethical basis for this termination. If Region 4 board members and superintendent White want to purvey this pretentiousness, I wish them luck. Tim King's supporters won't go quietly. Not with the truth on their side.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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