Unhappy with cutbacks to the girls basketball program, popular head coach Ron Berman tendered his resignation on Monday after 16 highly successful seasons.
Sixteen years ago, Ron Berman took over a Palmyra Area High School girls basketball program that was in complete disarray and turned it into both a consistent winner and a source of community pride.
Monday, he decided to step away from the program he built from the ground up, citing continuing cutbacks to the girls basketball program brought on by funding decisions by the Palmyra administration and school board.
The 68-year old Berman, who also spent 11 years as Palmyra's boys basketball coach earlier in his career and 47 years in the coaching business in all, went 325-116 since taking over the girls program in 2000, posting 15 straight winning seasons and capturing or sharing six Mid-Penn Keystone Division titles, also winning an overall Mid-Penn Conference title, and a District Three Class AAA championship. In addition, he guided the Cougars to the state semifinals twice, once in AAA and once in Class AAAA.
The Cougars posted a 13-10 record this past season, again qualifying for the district playoffs and appear to be poised for continued success. But Berman believed that the cutbacks, chiefly the lack of a ninth grade program, would make it difficult to remain at a high level in the coming years.
"It is with great frustration and disappointment that I feel the need to resign effective immediately as the Head Girls’ Basketball Coach at Palmyra High School," Berman said in his resignation letter. "When I originally took the position in the year 2000, I felt everything I needed to build a successful basketball program at Palmyra was in place and through hard work by my staff and players, we could become a very competitive and highly successful team year in and year out. "
"Unfortunately, continuing cutbacks through the years to our girls’ basketball program have now put our players and coaching staff at disadvantages. I honestly believe we will not be able to overcome these hurdles to stay at the elite level that our basketball staff, players, parents, and our Lady Cougar basketball fans have come to expect and appreciate from our players and coaches."
Berman said he went to district superintendent Lisa Brown with his concerns back in August but had not receive any indication that any of the issues he brought up, including no salary increases for himself and his staff since 2009 and lack of financial support for scouting and coaching clinics, would be addressed or remedied.
"The biggest one was the lack of a ninth grade program," said Berman, who noted he did not expect all of his concerns to be addressed by the administration. "We felt this year that at least 12 of the 15 players had not, somewhere along the way, played at the team level they should have been at. In some cases it was 9th graders who had to play up to the JV level and were not ready for it, and in other cases it was talented 7th and 8th graders who were being held back by lesser competition because there was no 9th grade team.
"I've tried for two years to get a 9th grade program back and we just haven't gotten anywhere. That is absolutely the No. 1 reason (for his resignation)."
Berman emphasized he respects the tough financial decisions the district has to make, he just doesn't agree with them. And after nearly 50 years as a coach, he no longer desires to fight such decisions.
"I have great respect for the school board volunteering their service for the community," Berman said. "They have tough decisions to make. I just don't agree with the direction they feel we need to go as a school district. I don't want to be critical of them. They have to do their job, and now it has left me in a position where I feel I can't do my job the way I want it to be done."
Brown said she understood Berman's frustration but emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility in the decision-making process.
"I respect Coach Berman's views that he didn't feel the level of financial support that he desired," Brown said in an e-mail late Tuesday afternoon. "I know that I absolutely love girls basketball, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching our girls play under Coach Berman's leadership. Unfortunately, district budgets and the current revenue structure have caused our district's administration and Board to pay close attention to fiscal responsibility.
"The administration has prepared a preliminary budget for 2016-17 (that has been posted on our website since the Jan. 7th Board Budget Presentation) that includes the reinstatement of the 9th grade basketball program and some salary provisions for coaches. This budget also requires a 5% tax increase as the district is faced with increasing student enrollments requiring additional staff and the need for renovations such as a new roof and HVAC system for an aging Middle School, and we are not certain that our community will accept a tax increase as such. All of these are considerations when preparing PASD for the future of our students.
Palmyra athletic director Brian Weidler, while not addressing the reasons for Berman's resignation, spoke highly of the popular coach.
""Ron took over a struggling Palmyra girls basketball program 16 years ago because he knew he could make a positive difference and the fact that he loves this community," Weidler said in an email. "He transformed a broken program into an elite program that is held in the highest regard."
"It was an honor to have this man represent this School District with such integrity and class. It's a tremendous loss for us. Very few did it better than Ronald Berman."
Being held in such high regard made it difficult for Berman to break the news to his staff, including longtime right-hand man and JV coach Kevin Leonard, and telling his players face-to-face turned out to be too emotional of a task to complete.
"Sunday night was our big banquet, and I did not want to ruin the banquet in any way, shape or form," Berman said. "That night after the banquet we went to the Bears Den and I told my staff. That was very emotional for all of us. There were a lot of tears shed, let's put it that way.
"I delivered the letter to Mr. Weidler on Monday afternoon, but I did not have the, I guess, courage or emotional strength to talk to the players face-to-face."
His players would have likely been as emotional as their head coach. When word of his resignation began to spread Monday night, many former players took to social media to express their love and respect for Berman.
"The success we had is something we can all be very proud of," Berman said. "Because it is a group effort, the coaches, players and parents all working for the good. I've been very blessed to have great families and an excellent coaching staff to work with."
"Coach Berman exemplifies the qualities that we want to see in a coach, a teacher, anyone working with our youth," Brown said. "The district will not be able to replace Coach Berman's level of experience and dedication."