When the George Mason High School varsity boys soccer team begins play this spring, the squad’s long-time head coach Art Iwanicki will not be at the helm of the program.
Not that he doesn’t wish to be.
After 11 years, 177 wins and five Group A Virginia state titles, Iwanicki is out as the head of the boys soccer program at Mason.
As to the reason why his coaching contract was not renewed, Iwanicki speculates that it could be retribution from school officials or the influence of an angry parent. Mason officials maintain that all coaching positions are on one-year contracts and the best candidate that completed the application process – assistant Frank Spinello – was granted the position.
“I can’t discuss personnel-related matters,” said Mason Athletic Director Tom Horn. “But the position was offered to someone else, accepted, and approved by the school board. So that’s the reason why he’s not going to be the coach.”
“We offered it to the best candidate that applied and interviewed and completed the process,” Horn added.
Iwanicki believes that the reason he is no longer the head varsity soccer coach “has to do with the events of the last 22 months.”
According to Iwanicki, he was informed in January 2009 that his alternative education teaching position at Mason was to be reduced from a full-time position to a .7 equivalence for the 2009-2010 school year. Iwanicki, a retired federal employment who spent 27 years working for the Department of Education, says he asked to renegotiate the reduction to his teaching position but was denied. He had hoped to have the reduction upped to a .8 equivalence, because of the impact to his retirement benefits.
“I didn’t take it sitting down. I went through the process of negotiating, which was a total failure,” Iwanicki said.
“I think I pissed off enough people at that time,” he added. “I tried to be very professional, but I wasn’t going to let people get away with stuff.”
Iwanicki first signed on as coach of the George Mason High School boys varsity soccer team in January of 2000, while still working for the DOE. Over 11 seasons, in addition to the five state titles, his teams won eight Bull Run District championships. The school currently has a 64-match streak in Bull Run play without a loss, and the team won the state title last spring.
In 2004, Iwanicki retired from DOE and took the full-time position of alternative education teacher at Mason, a position he said takes “kids that have fallen off the straight and narrow” and helps them earn credits to graduate.
After teaching the 2009-2010 school year at the reduced rate, Iwanicki sought and accepted a teaching position at Lackey High School in Charles County, Maryland, closer to his home in Waldorf. He also accepted the head boys varsity soccer coaching position at Lackey, and coached this Fall. With the Maryland soccer season taking place in the Fall, Iwanicki planned to continue to coach at Mason in the Spring.
“I made that perfectly clear to the athletic director and the principal, and that’s exactly how it was from 2000 to 2004,” said Iwanicki, 62. “I was working somewhere else, and I was coaching part time on a stipend in the spring. So there’s no new ground that we’re going over here.”
Iwanicki added “it’s not common, but it’s not unheard of” for personnel to teach at one school and coach at another.
Iwanicki says that days following his resignation as a teacher in June at Mason, principal Tyrone Byrd told him that he preferred to employ coaches who are in the community, but that Iwanicki would be free to apply for the position.
“Coaches that are still members of the George Mason and Falls Church City community,” Byrd said when asked what he meant by the phrase “in the community.” “That’s not the only qualification that we utilize, but it is one of those things that I think is important.”
Byrd also said “Our coaching contracts are a year long. At the end of those contracts, there is the possibly that the position will be opened up for interview. That’s what we decided to do with that position.”
When asked why Iwanicki’s teaching position was reduced, Byrd said “I can’t talk about personnel matters.”
Iwanicki claims there are a number of coaches at George Mason who do not teach at the school, including new head coach Spinello.
Iwanicki says he didn’t hear anything else from Mason officials until he saw a posting for the boys soccer head coaching position on the city’s website. He sent Horn some information in lieu of an application
“I didn’t really fill out the application. I might as well get my hands in the pot here so they can’t administratively say you didn’t apply.”
Iwanicki says following his application, Horn contacted him to say the school board had approved Spinello as coach.
“That’s the same way you go about hiring any position,” Horn said. “Our position was advertised, we interviewed the candidates that applied and we offered it to the one that we are comfortable leading our program.”
Iwanicki said he went to Mason earlier this month to talk with Horn, but without an expectation to regain his former teaching position.
“I’ve worked for Tom for 11 years and we’ve got a good relationship,” he said. “Maybe things you can find out in person that in emails and voicemails just don’t come out right.” During that trip to Mason, Iwanicki found his items packed in boxes.
“I said to Tom, is this parent driven or is this principal driven or administrative driven?” Iwanicki said. “You piss off parents, they think they’re very powerful. Horn’s response was, to his knowledge, it was not parent driven. You can make the next conclusion yourself.”
In addition to his disappointment in not returning as head coach next year, Iwanicki regrets not having enough time to plan for this Spring season.
“If you don’t want me, if something goes bump in the night, well, let everyone know so we can plan our lives a little bit better,” he said.