Wrestling coach: I was fired for driving kids home from school

Greg Ford Jr. was fired as wrestling coach at Lincoln High School after Tacoma Public Schools learned he was giving kids rides home.

TACOMA, Wash. -- A group of Tacoma parents is jumping in the ring to join in the fight, hoping to get a beloved coach reinstated.

Coach Greg Ford Jr. was fired after Tacoma Public Schools learned he was giving kids rides home and occasionally letting them spend the night, he said. Ford was the wrestling coach at Lincoln High School and is credited for leading the team to a number of victories it hadn’t seen in nearly two decades.

“We just figured it would be a write-up or a warning of some sort. We didn’t think it would be letting a coach go that had that much pull on a team,” said Dawn Zumwalt, whose son, Danny, has been coached by Ford for about three years. “We came back to the district so that he could go to high school with Ford.”

Reached by phone in St. Louis, Ford said he had permission from the parents to offer rides home to the kids – which was more about keeping them safe than anything else.

“I understand guidelines and policies. I explained to (the district). I never did anything without a parent knowing,” Ford said.

The district’s boundary-invasion policy was put in place after other staff were accused of sexually abusing students, said Dan Voelpel, executive director of communications for Tacoma Public Schools.

“We had some high-profile educators who went over the line and were charged with crimes,” Voelpel said. “As a result, we were a pioneer in the development of this boundary invasion policy that both protects our students but also protects our staff.”

Parents point out that no one has accused Ford of assaulting any student.

Ford says he recognized the need for the policy, but pointed to the shooting death of a former wrestler, murdered a couple miles from school in 2015. The neighborhood is simply too dangerous to allow kids to wait for parents to pick them up after late-night practices, he said.

“Eight percent of the athletes on my team come from single-parent households and it’s tough. The later it gets, the less likely it is for a student who’s waiting for a ride to have one,” Ford said.

"That’s a clear violation," Voelpel countered. "The coach had been previously trained in the boundary-invasion policy."

Parents credited Ford with helping wrestlers get their grades up and inspiring them to be involved in the community. They have now started an online petition to convince the district to reverse their decision.

“We’re going to lose some of these boys. There’s no questions asked. Some of these boys don’t come from good homes. They come from broken homes,” Zumwalt said. “They weren’t doing good things before the wrestling program, and coach Ford pulled them out of that.”

“At the end of the day, it’s not about me,” Ford added. “It never was about me. It was about these athletes and taking care of their future.”

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