Despite Pozo’s denial, school officials cite WIAA rules infraction in deciding not to renew contract, give up honors
The Cedar Grove-Belgium girls’ soccer program not only dismissed a coach last week, it surrendered its top two awards for the 2010 season — a share of the Central Lakeshore Conference chaampionship and a WIAA Division 2 regional title.
The Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board on June 23 voted not to renew the contract of head coach Papi Pozo after school officials decided he violated WIAA rules by using players in more than the 24 games allowed during the regular season.
As a result of the infraction, school officials also chose to forfeit the team’s league and regional championships.
“It was a unanimous decision,” School Board President Jim Lautenschlaeger said of the seven-member board vote following a closed session on Pozo’s coaching contracts for both the girls’ and boys’ soccer programs.
“We considered a lot of information that was presented to us. Once we took everything into account, we decided there was no other way we could vote.”
The board’s decision came after administrators, including athletic director Dan Coopman, investigated allegations that Pozo used four players — three seniors and one freshman — in an excessive number of games by having them participate in four varsity reserve contests.
Under WIAA rules, players are limited to 24 total games for the regular season. The Cedar Grove-Belgium girls played 22 varsity games, limiting them to two varsity reserve contests.
Coopman said that a parent sent an e-mail to the district alleging the rule infraction. After the same parent sent a follow-up e-mail with more specific information, Coopman said, schools officials conducted a post-season investigation.
Coopman said Pozo denied the allegations, but the investigation concluded there had been an infraction.
“When we felt we were in violation, we self-reported it to the WIAA,” Coopman said. “Their recommendation was that we forfeit the conference title and return the regional plaque.”
Coopman said “it didn’t really matter if there was one girl or four girls involved.”
“Once we determined at least one of them played in too many games, there was clearly a violation,” he said.
Pozo, who just completed his eighth year as the girls’ coach and coached the boys’ team for six years, adamantly denied breaking any rules.
“I did not have any of my players exceed 24 games,” Pozo said. “My assistant coach and I kept close watch on the books so that wouldn’t happen.
“I didn’t try to cover anything up. I sent my records to Dan and left it up to them.
“I’ve been coaching soccer for 20 years. Do you think I would do something that stupid during the wonderful season we were having?”
Pozo said he was disappointed with the administration’s recommendation and the board’s decision and said the allegation came from a parent “who has something against me.”
“I’ve been coaching under a microscope for the last three years or so,” Pozo said. “This just gave people who didn’t like me an excuse to get me out of coaching.
“When I talked to the board, I knew they weren’t going to keep me. I feel like I was left out there in the cold.”
Lautenschlaeger said the board’s decision — after a closed session that lasted more than one hour — was influenced by but not entirely based on the investigation.
“There were other factors out there,” he said. “We discussed a number of things that had to do with Papi and the coaching job.”
Lautenschlaeger called the decisions to let Pozo go and forfeit the championships “very difficult and heartbreaking.”
“It really pulls at the heartstrings, especially for the girls who worked hard all year long,” he said. “This in no way reflects on their efforts or accomplishments.”
Lautenschlaeger also said Pozo deserves credit for his work with both soccer teams.
This year, the girls’ team finished 19-5-2 and won its first conference title, which it shared with Howards Grove. In 2006, the Cedar Grove-Belgium boys’ squad advanced to the WIAA Division 3 state semifinals.
“I want to thank Papi for his many years of service. He gave a lot to the programs,” Lautenschlaeger said.
The district is accepting applications for the head soccer coaching jobs in both the fall boys’ and spring girls’ programs.
Coaching contracts in Cedar Grove-Belgium and most other school districts are subject to annual reviews prior to renewal.