Lawsuits

Bill Holowaty Forced Out By Administrators

Bill Holowaty Forced Out By Administrators

Bill HolowatyBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Bill Holowaty, one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Division III history, was forced out of his job in late April after serving Eastern Connecticut State for the past 45 years.

The Hall of Fame skipper led the Warriors to four national championships as he stepped down with an overall record of 1,404-525-7.

Holowaty posted the most victories of any coach in any sport in New England collegiate history.

According to The Hartford Courant, five charges of misconduct were leveled against Holowaty by Eastern Connecticut St. administrators, and he was suspended for three weeks starting in late April and was eligible to return to his job May 13.

The charges included complaints of alleged public cursing and abusive language, failure to comply with directives from his supervisor in a timely manner, failure to follow financial procedures as articulated in the department manual, failure to comply with a Feb. 7 agreement that dealt with proper documentation of department funds and throwing a helmet into the bleachers after a recent game.

After careful consideration, the 68-year-old decided to retire instead of fight the administration over these charges “even though they were trumped up to get rid of me,” said Holowaty.

The legendary skipper, who is contemplating a lawsuit against the school, said his problems began when Jeff Konin was hired in July of 2012 as the school’s athletics’ director.

“What was done was evil and sinful,” said Holowaty in an extensive interview with Collegiate Baseball.

“It all started when a new athletics director was brought in (Jeff Konin), and we didn’t start off too well. A whole bunch of situations happened with different sports, and he came in right in the middle of it. During an August meeting, I said to him, and I probably shouldn’t have said it, that one of the problems in our department is that everybody is afraid to say something to you because they have no tenure and can be removed very easily. I am the only person with tenure, and that is why I have been the spokesman for all our coaches.

“The next day, he comes into my office and tells me that your tenure will not protect you from me. It was a direct threat. From that day on, it has been hell on wheels, and there has been a constantly choreographed plan to go after me. He got the school president (Elsa Nunez) to change her opinion toward me, and it went down hill from there.

“As an example, I was only given 17 days to raise $32,000 for our 2013 spring trip to Florida. And I raised about $26,000 during that short period of time. I was then told that since the total amount was not raised that we couldn’t go on our spring trip. Over the 45 years I had been at Eastern Connecticut State, which included 15 years as the athletics director, I had raised approximately $3 million during that time, if not more. So raising a few thousand dollars more for the spring trip was not going to be a problem.

“I routinely raised between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.”

Confidential Information
Holowaty said what concerned him a great deal was confidential information about him being leaked to the media.

“Elsa Nunez (President of Eastern Connecticut St.) allowed confidential information to be distributed to the media illegally. And then she made the comment, ‘We thought we had him before, but the witnesses did not come through. Now we have all the witnesses we need to terminate his employment. This was said to the papers while the investigation was going. It was handled totally improperly.

“Our president was also quoted as saying, ‘There had been other allegations through the years. And every time we got close to where termination was possible, a witness would not come forward.

“This whole thing was well orchestrated. It was me versus the administration. I wasn’t aware of what they were doing. It was a witch hunt that got out of hand. I approached the administration a week before resigning and told them that what was going on is totally wrong for me and the university.

“Let’s stop and reevaluate the whole situation and go forward with logic. One of the Vice Presidents called me and said this was not about my job. A few days later, this individual told me that he was wrong. Things have changed.

“This was a witch hunt that was planned last year probably in August and has been carried out this entire year. I was set up to fail.”

Holowaty, who also served as the athletics’ director at Eastern Connecticut State for 15 years (1974-1988) during his career, carried the torch for other coaches at the school.

“What bothers me is that I built the athletics program at Eastern Connecticut State. When I became the AD here, we had no women’s sports. Now we have more women’s sports than men’s sports. We had no outdoor facilities for our women. And these were all things we accomplished during my 15 years as athletics’ director.

“I ultimately was asked to choose between being a full time AD or baseball coach in 1988. I choose to be the full time baseball coach and stop being the AD.

“The current president at Eastern said that I have never liked our ADs that have come along. And I said that’s not true at all. The former AD and I got along very well and called me recently asked if she could help me. So this has been a witch hunt, and I don’t know where it went sour for me and the president of the university. Prior to the new AD coming aboard, we were on solid ground.”

Lets Assistant Go
After last season, his assistant coach for 36 seasons, Bob Wojick, was let go.

“I told him that it was time to part because we just were not good for each other. He couldn’t stop talking about me behind my back to anybody who would listen on campus for a period of time. He was always questioning my decisions. I have been told that when he talked to administrators, he said ‘Holowaty is not the same’ and this and that. I gave him a year to change his ways because we had been together for so many years. I owed him that. But he didn’t change. So a year ago in May or June, I told him that we had to part. I told him that he did a hell of a job for many years. But I just couldn’t put up with it any more.

“I was told by a vice president that the talk behind my back by Bob was going on for the previous 3-4 years. When he left my office that day, he said, ‘You will never hear the end of this. Since then, I have had 3-4 hearings by the university for me being accused of stealing money or me doing this or that with the source being him.

“None of the allegations were proven to be right.”

Holowaty said that another situation came up involving his son Jared.

“I knew after the 2012 season, I was going to retire in one or two years. And I thought it would be great to have my son Jared with me as an assistant coach to finish off a great career. He would not be paid a cent and would be a volunteer. He previously was a volunteer for our program during the 2003 or 2004 season. Then he left to coach at College of New Jersey, the University of Maine and Whitman College.

“He resigned at Whitman (located in Washington) because was not happy being so far from home and wanted to come back and help me out on the basis that Bob Wojick would still be here. Jared would not take anybody’s position and would simply volunteer his time and help me out.

“I was happy as heck that I had the chance to finish my career with my son next to me. We went through the entire summer of 2012 with no answer from the president of the university if this was going to be allowed. Then in August, I wrote a letter asking for an answer. And she (Elsa Nunez) wrote back that I had a hard time handling volunteer workers at the university, and she wouldn’t allow this to happen.

“I didn’t handle the answer well. The new AD got involved. This just set the tone for the rest of the year. Jared left and went to Montclair St. to coach with Norm Schoenig and has enjoyed his experience. I hired new assistant coaches, and they did a heck of a job.”

More Problems Erupt
The problems Holowaty had with his president and AD didn’t stop there.

“Since the school year started, I have been accused of causing social media problems. Being an older guy, I had no idea what social media meant. And the AD called me a liar.

“Then I handed in my budget the same way I have done for the prior 44 years. It was hand written in ink. But it wasn’t done to the AD’s specifications. He wanted it typed.

“Then he gave me 17 days in November to raise $32,000 for our spring trip. I raised $26,000 in 17 days. And then I mentioned to him that it would be appreciated if he let me raise money beyond this 17-day window because on Jan. 1 I would have over $40,000 for the trip. He said no. And he refused to allow us to go on our annual spring trip because I couldn’t meet this 17-day deadline.”

In the 45 years Holowaty had been at Eastern Connecticut State, no AD had ever put up a road block to a spring trip as Konin was alleged to have done.

“I had a survey given to NCAA Division III schools at the 2013 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, and not one Division III school had their money raised before the spring semester started. In our league, the earliest a team had all their money in was Feb. 1. The latest was the middle of March. And one school didn’t have a deadline.

“This guy (Konin) required this 17-day deadline so that I would fail. In the mean time, our women’s softball program had an organized, type-written budget that he thought was appropriate, and it was approved. They didn’t have their money raised until the middle of February.”

Holowaty said that he then had to scramble to complete his 2013 schedule with a chunk of games now being played in freezing weather instead of the sunny weather of Florida.

“Since our AD refused to allow us to go on a spring trip, I lined up games in Long Island, New Jersey, and other locations. We played over 60 percent of our schedule in 30 degree weather, if not colder.”

Holowaty was asked if any of his players suffered injuries because of the cold weather.

“We lost three catchers and our shortstop, but our kids have done a heck of a job battling through all of the cold weather they had to endure.”

Player With DUI
Holowaty explained another situation that cropped up during the season.

“One of our ball players was arrested for DUI on a Thursday evening. Friday morning, he called me to tell me about the situation. I suspended him indefinitely and took away his honor of being a captain. And he did not dress with his teammates for games the whole weekend.

“Then I told him that I would see the athletics’ director on Monday. And we would talk and then make a decision. So I saw our AD that Monday morning and had a game that afternoon against Wesleyan. I told our AD that our player would do this and that. I said that he should be let back on the team. However, he would not start today but would dress.

“We travel to Wesleyan. I had to keep 3-4 kids at home because they had class. Another 3-4 kids were at home because there was a JV game there. So we traveled with a skeleton crew. Our shortstop in pre-game stepped on a pipe and sprained his ankle. So I am left with pitchers outside of the DUI guy to play. So I started the DUI guy because I had nobody else. I didn’t want to see a pitcher get injured playing a position they weren’t used to.

“In retrospect, I probably should have put a pitcher out there for one inning or one out and took him out. Then there wouldn’t have been a problem. Our AD came down for the game to see how I would handle everything. He called my cell phone during the game, which I didn’t have on, to talk to me about the situation.

“This AD has never coached in his life. He is a former trainer. Here I am once again being questioned. And he wrote it up in my file that I did not follow orders. And then he accused me of winning at all costs.”

Holowaty said that in early February, Konin suggested that he assign an assistant coach to help him out with financial matters.

“I told him (Konin) that one of my assistant coaches is a volunteer coach who drives 1½ hours one way to help the program. My head assistant runs three big restaurants in Hartford. My other assistant had to get a full time job because he was getting married, his girlfriend was pregnant, and he was buying a house. Then I mentioned that three people were turned down as office workers.

“I was told my son couldn’t volunteer his time to be with the program. Second, we had an assistant equipment manager for a long time who was told he couldn’t coach with me. Third, I trained a student for two years to do all my work in the office to help me out. And I was told he couldn’t work for me. Now is this helping the baseball program or deterring the baseball program? I was set up to fail once again.”

Helmet Tossed Into Stands
One of the allegations by the administration was that Holowaty threw a helmet into the bleachers during a game this season.

“Administrators said they did an investigation into this situation, and I was never asked my side of the story. Here is what happened. It was probably 30 degrees, and there was virtually no one in stands. We have a team rule that batters are not allowed to throw helmets in frustration. We want batters to walk back to the dugout and put their helmet away properly if they make an out.

“One of our players, a senior, has grown up tremendously over the years. But he had a helmet throwing problem every once in a while when he got frustrated. In this situation, he throws the helmet, and he knows the rule. I probably should have just kicked him out of the ball game at that point. But I didn’t. I picked the helmet up and looked in the stands above the dugout. Nobody is there, and I threw the helmet up there in disgust and to show how childish his antics were.

“The President at Eastern Connecticut State (Nunez) responded by saying, ‘I am a grandmother, and I have children. If somebody threw a helmet at my child, I would sue. Once they saw he threw a helmet in the stands, it was over. This was egregious. I can’t have anybody do that. It is just unacceptable.”

Holowaty said that nobody at the school has asked his side of this story until Collegiate Baseball inquired.

“We’re all about student education. And I was trying to show this young man that throwing a helmet was simply not acceptable. I wasn’t angry at the kid. But a point had to be made about how horrible it looks to throw helmets. Like I said, nobody was in the stands because it was 30 degrees.”

Holowaty said his AD constantly wrote negative things in his file.

“I dropped by the AD’s office one day to reschedule a game, and I headed out to practice shortly after that. The next day, I was talking to kids all day because that is what you do at a university. I didn’t have a chance to look at my e-mail.

“So I run by the AD’s office before I go to practice and ask him if he decided what was going to happen with the rescheduled game. He then tells me that he spent a lot of time e-mailing me an answer. Read your e-mail! We rarely had meetings because he can’t go in front of people and talk to them properly.”

Holowaty said another allegation brought up against him was being abusive to a ball player during the 2013 season.

“This is what transpired. After a ball game I was sitting in the dugout, and nobody was around. I have my hands on my chin. One of our players comes by and tells me that he wants to hit.

“I told him that he should go home and rest. Then he repeated that he wanted to hit and then started to mouth off. Then I used several swear words to tell him to go home. Then he takes his ball bucket, throws it on the ground and dislocates his shoulder. He hasn’t played since.

“After that, he goes home and tells his mother that I was verbally abusive. Guess what? I have gotten in kid’s faces. I have never had any intention of harming anybody. This is what happened, and nobody at the university has ever asked what transpired with this kid. Nobody.

“My final conclusion with all of this is that it is extremely difficult to be a leader in our society now. You have principles, and you must follow those principles. I am an educator first and foremost. If you are a good coach, you are an educator, period.”

Law Broken
Holowaty said confidential information was released to newspapers from his personnel file.

“This is never supposed to happen unless approved by court order. Yet when I was suspended by the university recently, I was not allowed to talk to anybody or go on campus. While I was muzzled, the President of the University (Nunez) was quoted in The Hartford Courant that there had been other allegations through the years about me. But she said, ‘Every time we would get close where termination was possible, a witness would not come forward.’ This is called fishing in the newspaper.

“She was quoted as saying, ‘The bullying and abusing (by Holowaty) are being investigated. That may go on past May 13. If it does, he (Holowaty) would not go back to coaching.’

“She said that the investigation may show that two people come forward or 42 people. And we have to talk to them all by law.”

Holowaty said that this “fishing” expedition in the media was disgusting.

“She then said, ‘If he did something wrong, he should be terminated. If not, we owe him an apology.’ ”

Holowaty said that an open message was addressed to Nunez following this ordeal.

“The person who wrote the message said: ‘If cursing in public and throwing a baseball helmet are grounds for termination, then what are the consequences for discussing in public pending unsubstantiated allegations and throwing confidential documents into the public forum?

“To Coach Holowaty: This process was not evil and sinful. It is illegal. To Connecticut State Board of Regents: This wasn’t a personnel matter for Elsa Nunez. It was a personal matter.”

Holowaty said he woke up the morning of April 25 and rolled over to see his beautiful wife Jan with tears streaming from her eyes.

“This year has been nearly unbearable,” said Holowaty.

“And my wife, who is one heck of a lady, has been abused by these statements by administrators. They are totally out of line, totally illegal, and I just couldn’t put up with it any more. So I had to resign so she wouldn’t suffer any more.

“I just wanted to be treated properly and fairly. And this is not that. There is not one time in my entire career that I purposely did anything to hurt someone. My thought all the time was to try and motivate, teach and excite players to be better in whatever they do. And yes, I yelled at kids at times and also got in their faces. Did I hurt them? No damn way.

 “Hundreds of former players from all over the country have come to my aid during this tough time. Being 68 years old, I was going to retire soon. This just hastened it. I am extremely disappointed at how this university treated me when I was someone who had been loyal and dedicated for 45 years.

“I have contacted a lawyer and am not sure if I will file suit against these people or not. My union is involved in this matter, and I don’t know where that will go. My good name and family have been dragged through the mud unnecessarily. And I have been slandered without any regrets.”

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Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Beware of Foul BallsBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — When a baseball fan is hit by a line drive, and a serious injury takes place, should he be allowed to sue?

Or does the disclaimer on the back of the ticket saying the holder assumes all risks associated with ball-related injuries absolve those who operate a stadium and team of future lawsuits?

The question has come into focus after Bud Rountree was hit by a line drive in the eye at a Boise (Idaho) Hawks baseball game in August of 2008.

The severe damage caused by the impact resulted in Rountree losing his eye.

His attorney filed a lawsuit against the stadium owners and the team in 2010 for negligence in state court. Several weeks ago, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.

It was a rare setback for stadium owners and teams concerning this issue.

For decades, the “Baseball Rule” of liability has been adopted for such situations as lawsuits have been turned away from courts because of the disclaimer on the back of tickets with those attending games knowing the potential danger of foul balls, thrown balls and bats flying into stands.

The back of Rountree’s ticket said: “The holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls.”

It didn’t matter in this case.

This ruling has reverberated throughout all of baseball.

If a jury rules in favor of Rountree’s lawsuit, all of baseball will be impacted, including college and high school games.

You might see more protective netting being put up or even have fans sign their tickets to show they know what the disclaimer on the back of their ticket says as they hand them to stadium personnel entering parks.

Another case took place in New Mexico when the parents of a 4-year-old child launched a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league team after their son was hit in the head by a long fly ball during pre-game batting practice.

The family was eating in the picnic area located just beyond the left field wall. Different courts in New Mexico have gone back and forth over whether the family should be given compensation for the head injury.

It should be noted that the Baseball Rule siding with teams and stadium owners has been adopted by courts in Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and other states which go against the recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling.

How Many Fans Are Hit?
While Collegiate Baseball knows of no source that tracks fan injuries from foul balls by Major League Baseball or the NCAA, Bob Gorman has done unscientific research for his blog Death At The Ballpark.

He kept a count of foul balls entering stands for 20 games during the 2010 season which amounted to 166 innings. He counted 405 fouls that went into the stands which was an average of 2.44 per inning.

The greatest number of fouls per inning was 5.4 over a 5-inning stretch. The lowest figure was eight during 8 ½ innings (.09 per inning).

He pointed out that the Detroit Free Press did a similar project for one game. During a Tigers’ contest at Comerica Park, they had a crew of 22 people spread throughout the park tracking balls that entered the stands (including fouls, homers, and balls tossed to fans from the field). Of the 46 fouls that game, 32 met the paper’s criteria of entering the stands.

Of these 32, 23 were from batted fouls. The average for this 8 ½ inning game was similar to what Gorman found in his research: 2.7 fouls per inning.

Of the thousands of professional, college and high school baseball games that are played each year, you can multiply that number by the number of innings played and then multiply that figure by 2.4 to get a realistic idea of how many balls are hit into stands each year.

And that figure is obviously in the thousands.

For More On This Story: Read more about injuries at the College World Series and other ballparks and who is liable. See the March 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. See Subscriptions for ordering information.