MANISTIQUE - Ousted Manistique Emeralds softball manager Dave McNeil says he is just the latest example of a concerning trend in high school athletics.
"I was a non-faculty coach and there's no voice for non-faculty coaches," he said. "When a teacher-coach has their job on the line, they have the MEA. You rarely see this happen to faculty coaches. There's no help for non-faculty coaches. Ask Gregg Nelson (Negaunee) or Joe Derouin (Bark River-Harris) or any non-faculty coach that has worked as hard as they can and had the rug pulled out from under them. It happens more than people know and it's very sad.
"If it wasn't for me, there wouldn't be a softball program at Manistique."
McNeil served as the Emeralds softball coach for five seasons. Prior to that, he coached at Big Bay de Noc for 11 seasons.
On Nov. 19 at the Manistique school board meeting, McNeil did not have his contract renewed.
Manistique Superintendent Kathy McDonough issued the following statement: "The Athletic Council which is made up of the athletic director, middle school/high school principal, board members and myself met. There have been concerns and issues. It was decided to bring a non-renewal forward to the board. Though Mr. McNeil was instrumental in starting the softball program, the Athletic Council and ultimately the board decided it was time to change leadership."
Athletic Director Rob Ryan and Manistique school board members declined to comment.
McNeil acknowledged that at times, he became frustrated.
"I'm not perfect and I do get frustrated. There are frustrations with this job and I don't deny it," he said. "But the way it was portrayed was, Dave McNeil is an ogre that needs to be dispatched. I look in the mirror and I like the person I see.
"I did rip my team once in Gladstone before a game, but I never demeaned the players. In five years, I've only ripped them one time and it was due to a meltdown of epic proportion. When I had to tear into the team, I did. But basically, the board said it was a matter of unreasonable playing time and that I argued with umpires. Things that aren't even close to accurate."
McNeil said whatever the reason, it wasn't because of his record.
"Basically, what I've been able to do here in five years is put this program in a successful position. It's the winningest program at Manistique. The program as of right now, is the strongest its ever been.
"I've had nothing but positive evaluations. On my last evaluation, I had 100 comments and 98 of them were positive. Two days later, I got called into the Athletic Council and told they weren't going to renew my contract. They wrote that my reputation makes it difficult to coach in the Manistique school system. I have no idea what that means."
At the board meeting on Nov. 18, the board initially voted 3-3 not to renew McNeil's contract.
"I wanted an opportunity to address some of this stuff, but because I wasn't officially listed on the agenda I wasn't allowed to. The motion was made and immediately seconded," said McNeil. "There was a great deal of discussion because some members didn't want it to go through. Eventually it ended up being a 4-3 vote. It wasn't cut and dry."
McNeil said he gave a lot of time and money to the program over the last five years while tending to his sick wife.
"I donated my time and money as a non-faculty person to this program and literally in the blink of an eye, you can have it taken away by a bargaining unit. It's terrible that your emotions can be treated like that," he said.
"When I first started, the pay wasn't good but I didn't keep the money anyway. I donated every nickel back to the program. I once had a guy from the MEA call and chastise me for that, but 35.7 percent of my wages got paid into the teachers retirement fund."
McNeil fears that unless non-faculty coaches start speaking up, more instances like his are bound to happen.
"I've called people like coach Nelson and coach Derouin and told them that this is going to keep happening if we don't get together," he said. "These things rarely seem to be about job performance, but rather a personal agenda."
McNeil said he will seek another coaching position elsewhere in the future.
"Right now, I'm going to attend to my wife who is still pretty ill. I certainly still love coaching though," he said. "It's one of those things that I didn't pick, it picked me. An eighth grade boys basketball coach has asked me to work the bench with him the last couple years. I do enjoy working with the younger kids."