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Amherst Regional assistant coach loses job over Monday incident

  • The Amherst Regional boys basketball team huddles during a timeout during Thursday night's game against Chicopee in Amherst.

    The Amherst Regional boys basketball team huddles during a timeout during Thursday night's game against Chicopee in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • South Hadley Head Coach Jeff Guiel, center, coaches his team during their game against Amherst Monday in South Hadley.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    South Hadley Head Coach Jeff Guiel, center, coaches his team during their game against Amherst Monday in South Hadley.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Amherst Regional boys basketball team huddles during a timeout during Thursday night's game against Chicopee in Amherst.
  • South Hadley Head Coach Jeff Guiel, center, coaches his team during their game against Amherst Monday in South Hadley.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

AMHERST — Three days after Amherst Regional junior Tyrell Jackson twice slammed into an opposing coach, assistant coach Eric Wheeler was fired for instructing him to do so.

Jackson made contact with South Hadley coach Jeff Guiel who was standing out of bounds near his team’s bench twice in the closing minutes of the first half of Monday’s game in South Hadley. In at least one of those instances, Guiel was knocked down.

The Amherst administration conducted an investigation into the event, which included watching both the Hurricanes’ own game film, which did not show the contact on tape, and the Tigers’ film, which did, along with numerous interviews.

Amherst officials determined that Wheeler told Jackson to take out the opposing coach and announced Wheeler’s termination in a statement released Thursday.

“Sixteen-year-olds don’t get it in their heads ‘when I get no time in the game and I finally get put in the game, that the first thing I’m going to do is run out of bounds and initiate contact that puts the other coach on his ass,’ ” Amherst principal Mark Jackson said in an interview at the school Thursday afternoon. “Then, what the video shows is that before he goes in the game, he has a private, in-your-ear conversation with the assistant coach in question. (Tyrell Jackson’s) account of this is that upon entering the game, he was told by the assistant coach to take (Guiel) out.”

The principal is not related to the basketball player.

Amherst Regional school officials said in a statement released Thursday, “Coach Wheeler was apparently frustrated by the game officials’ unwillingness to penalize the South Hadley coach for being out of the coaching box and believed that if a player made contact with the coach a technical foul would be assessed. Coach Wheeler shared this belief with the student, who then acted on it. Such conduct is unacceptable under any circumstances and both Mr. Wheeler’s and the student’s actions are in extreme opposition to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District’s expectations for faculty and students. Mr. Wheeler is no longer coaching Amherst students, effective immediately.”

Wheeler was in his second year with the program. He coached the freshman team last season and was the junior varsity coach this year. Mike Coblyn, another varsity assistant, will take over the JV position for the remainder of the season.

“We had an adult in our employ that created a context that compromised the decision-making of a kid,” Mark Jackson said. “So does the kid have some responsibility? He absolutely does, but the adult established a framework within which the kid’s ability to make the right decision was compromised. For that, we made the decision about the adult that we did.

“Compromising the kid’s ability to do the right thing from the start, that’s really what has made this a troubling incident,” he continued. “Because we would hope that one of the things that defines the adults in this building is the ability to create contexts which allows kids to make good decisions rather than lousy ones.”

Mark Jackson said the school would not comment on the specific actions taken against Tyrell Jackson or any of his teammates.

“This is a slightly awkward thing to navigate because on one hand, student records are protected,” he said. “I can’t talk to you about a kid’s grades, his attendance. Disciplinary records are the same thing.

“I think the thing I want to say is that we’ve been vigilant in chasing the leads down, doing our due diligence and where we find culpability there will be an appropriate response from the school,” Mark Jackson added. “But what I’m not able to go into is how that gets parsed from individual player to individual player.”

He later said, “It’s protected. It’s being investigated. There will be consequences for the culpable, but in terms of our putting into the public domain that kind of record, I’m unable to do that.”

Amherst played Chicopee Thursday night in its first game since the incident. Jackson, Sam Hird, Tom Cook and Isaac Siegel were not listed in the official scorebook. Amherst won 49-44.

“Siegel is injured and is out for the season,” head coach Jim Matuszko said. “Tyrell ... we are working to try to see what’s going to happen there. The other two were some tweeting stuff that we didn’t think was appropriate.”

Amherst’s investigation determined that Matuszko did not know ahead of time that Tyrell Jackson planned to run into Guiel.

Amherst plays next at Brattleboro Union (Vt.) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Matuszko said he was not sure if he would have a full roster. “Except Siegel, I believe so,” he said. “Maybe not Jackson.”

The incident sparked some heated interactions on social media websites Monday night and Mark Jackson said the administration is still considering how it will handle that.

“Right now our interest and focus is on the behavior on the court,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing. Was there a flurry of social media activity in the wake of this? There absolutely was. Am I in a position to say anything about that right now? I’m not, which is why the investigation is ongoing. It is absolutely the case that between players on both teams in the wake of this, the Twitter accounts were working overtime.”

Matuszko said after Thursday’s game that he hopes something positive can come out of the situation.

“This is a situation we can learn from and I think, for me, learning as well to know what is going on on the bench with my coaches and what the players are doing and thinking,” he said.

Matuszko, who is in his 15th season at Amherst, said he and Guiel have exchanged text messages.

“I’m disappointed in the way the whole thing happened,” Matuszko said. “I don’t believe there was anything malicious attempted there, it just ended up snowballing with the social media stuff. I didn’t understand or know what happened until late on Tuesday when I saw some of the tweets from kids that was sent to me from our AD.”

After South hadley played Sabis on Thursday at the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Guiel declined comment about the action Amherst took against Wheeler.

“It’s important to me to respect the superintendent, the principal and athletic director,” he said. “I will reiterate what I said before. Something very, very, very wrong was done to me. It should resonate with coaches in general and I’m exploring all of the options in how to handle it and deal with it and not just for myself, but to make sure other coaches are protected and that this never happens again.”

He added, “I can’t help the fact that I’ve been an attorney for 21 years. I’m pondering all the various options to prevent this for other people, not just me.”

In reconstructing how the incident occurred, Mark Jackson said, “Early in the first quarter, people on our bench were buzzing about the fact that the South Hadley coach was routinely outside the box on the floor.

“And so (Wheeler) does verbalize to (Matuszko) that we should put somebody in to initiate contact. (It was) clearly said, a number of people heard it,” he added. Matuszko “turns to him and says, ‘We’re not doing that.’ He emphatically shuts it down. (There was) no discussion about it for the remainder of the half.

“The next time it rears its head is the private conversation between the assistant coach and the kid in question right before he went into the game with a minute and a half to go in the first half. So there was an utterance and (Matuszko) shut it down.”

Superintendent Maria Geryk said in the statement, “Adults, whether in the classroom or on the basketball court, are models for students and are charged with teaching and supporting students in their academic, social and behavioral growth,“I am saddened and disappointed that an adult would create a situation which compromised one of our students.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com. Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com.

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