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Bentz, supporters state case to A-C board

Embattled Annville-Cleona softball coach Dave Bentz and a group of supporters asked the school board and administration to bring Bentz back as head coach next season.

Annville-Cleona High School softball coach Dave Bentz knows and admits he made a mistake last month when he loaned his keys to the school to a player for the purpose of playing an ultimately harmless prank.

It was an error in judgment that Bentz and those who support him do not dispute. What they do dispute is the A-C administration's belief that the misstep should cost Bentz his job.

On Thursday night, they brought their case before the Annville-Cleona Board of School Directors at its monthly workshop meeting.

A total of eight residents, including Bentz himself, addressed the board in eloquent and at times emotional fashion, each imploring the board and the school's administrators to reconsider their stance and bring Bentz back for a 12th season as head coach.

Whether or not their efforts prove to be successful remains to be seen.

Board President Mark Frattarole said prior to the public comment session that he and his fellow directors would not be speaking publicly about the Bentz situation because it is a personnel matter, and after the meeting, district Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger indicated that no action on Bentz's status would be taken at next week's voting meeting.

So the situation remains as is for now. The district wants Bentz to resign and presumably will not recommend that he be re-hired. Bentz, for his part, refuses to resign, something he reiterated to the board on Thursday.

"I made a mistake, just like others do, but I am the only one getting punished," Bentz said, noting that none of the students involved in the prank were disciplined by the school. "It doesn't seem fair to me, considering there probably isn't another coach in the building who hasn't given up his or her keys for some reason along the way...But I'm not here to get other people in trouble. I'm just here to state my case so that I can continue coaching softball at A-C.

"I just want to coach. You can punish me other ways if you want — missing games, or you can take all or part of my coaching salary for next year and donate it to Thon. I don't care. We coaches at A-C don't coach for money, we coach because we love to coach."

Also addressing the board were Bentz's wife, Rhonnda, who presented a petition started by Coach Bentz's daughter, Lindsay Stevens, with 375 signatures of support from residents and current and former players. She expressed a belief held by many supporters that "the punishment does not fit the crime."

"Does he deserve to be punished for it? Yes." she said. "Does he deserve to lose his job over it? Absolutely not."

Also addressing the board were two current A-C softball players, Morgan Zimmerman and Amber Rexrode, who spoke highly of Bentz as a coach, mentor and role model for the girls who have passed through the program during his tenure.

In addition, retired teacher and former softball parent Jim Batchelor, scorekeeper Mike Miller, who has had daughters and a granddaughter play softball at A-C, and Steve Kreamer, a close friend of Bentz, also spoke up in support of the coach.

But the most powerful speaker may have been Sue Ernst, who read a letter her daughter and former A-C catcher Cassie Ernst wrote to Potteiger that hailed Bentz's impact on her life. She is currently a police officer in Philadelphia and credited Bentz with developing her into the person she is today.

"Ten years ago I was a scrawny 14-year-old freshman at Annville-Cleona with dreams of playing softball in college," Ernst's letter said. "It was Dave Bentz who helped make my dreams become reality. Without him, I don't think I'd be where I am today... Dave never gave up on me and gave me every possible chance to shine and learn the game."

Ernst went on to play college softball at Moravian before settling into her current career in law enforcement.

"Bad things happen to good people, and that's exactly what happened here," Ernst said in the letter, while asking for Bentz to get a second chance. "The right thing is always worth it in the end."