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A-C wants softball coach Dave Bentz to step down

After an incident in which he gave a player his keys to the high school, Annville-Cleona has asked Dave Bentz to step down as head softball coach. Bentz has refused.

The Annville-Cleona School District administration wants Dave Bentz to resign after 11 successful seasons at the helm of the school's softball program.

Bentz has responded to that request with a competitive fire that should surprise no one who's played for him or seen him coach over the last decade-plus.

Quit? Uh, uh. No way.

The district's request for Bentz to step down stems from an admitted error in judgement the head coach made recently, when he lent his keys to the high school to a player who was planning a good-natured prank on A-C teacher and softball assistant coach Liz Safstrom involving tennis balls.

The player later, without Bentz's knowledge or permission, gave the keys to another student not involved with the softball team, who used the access to the building to plan a more detailed, but ultimately harmless, prank involving balloons and cups of water for the school's Senior Prank Day.

"The situation was, after practice, they came up to me and said, 'Hey, can you help me out?'" Bentz said, recounting the events that got him in trouble. "I said, 'Sure, what's up?' They said, 'It's Senior Prank Week, we want to do something to Coach Safstrom. We need tennis balls, we need your keys to get the tennis balls.' I said, 'OK, make sure you give me my keys back.' I left, went home, said see you tomorrow. Apparently there was some peer pressure going on, and my keys ended up in somebody else's hands."

According to Bentz, no property inside the school was damaged, no one was injured and no harm was done, although there was some minor vandalism in the form of graffiti done to the outside of the school that had nothing to do with access to his keys.

But when school administration learned of the situation, they came down swiftly and harshly on Bentz, directing him to retire or resign as head coach at the end of the season, which came in last Thursday's 2-0 loss to Pequea Valley in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AA playoffs.

According to Bentz, none of the students involved were punished, but he was. Bentz was asked to step down by then acting district superintendent Jeffrey Miller. Miller has since been replaced by new superintendent Cheryl Potteiger, who, according to Bentz, has declined to reverse Miller's request.

Potteiger declined to comment for this story, noting district policy is to not speak publicly on personnel matters.

And so the 1976 Annville-Cleona grad, who unashamedly claims to bleed the school's colors of red and white, finds himself fighting to keep the job his bosses no longer want him to have.

"I'm not saying I didn't do anything wrong. I handed my keys to and trusted an 18-year old senior athlete and my trust was shot out the window, basically," Bentz said. "Am I upset about the kid? No, I'm not. It was a mistake. I made a mistake, she made a mistake. It happened. Was it my mistake? Yeah, in hindsight I wouldn't have done it. But it happened. I can't take it back."

That said, Bentz, and a group of supporters headed by his daughter and former catcher Lindsay Stevens who have formed a Rally For Coach Bentz Facebook page, believes his punishment is out of proportion to his infraction. And so he has not and will not be sending in a resignation letter anytime soon.

"I just want to coach," he said. "That's all. I think my record  speaks for itself (almost 160 victories, one district title, two district runner-up finishes). I did nothing to degrade the program and I bleed red and white. I think the world of the school and I think the world of the kids."

Bentz did get the chance to argue his case in a meeting with Potteiger, but says it was for naught.

"I basically got nowhere," he said. "She said she would not override what the interim superintendent handed down. She would not do it. She spoke a lot about security, and I agreed with her and said, 'Yes, I understand.' But there was no damage inflicted. It's a Senior Prank; it's gonna happen every year. If there would have been something malicious inside, I would have understood and I'd be there whitewashing walls or whatever had to be done."

Though it's been an upsetting time for Bentz, known for wearing his heart on his sleeve in good times and bad, there has been a positive aspect to the turmoil.

Many former players and their families have posted words of support on the Facebook page and/or sent letters and emails to Potteiger asking her to reconsider the district's position. A number are planning to address the A-C school board at its monthly meeting June 23.

"Some of the letters were heartfelt. It actually makes you look at yourself and say, 'Maybe I did touch some people,'" Bentz said. "That's kinda the cool thing about it. Every time I read 'em, I teared up. It was amazing. If this works out for the good, great; if it works out for the bad at least I know that people care."

And those people in turn know that Bentz won't be stepping away from coaching willingly. It's simply not how he's wired.

"I'm not resigning and I'm not retiring," he said. "I'm not gonna do it. I just want to coach. You can put that in big letters."