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With four days remaining until the special meeting in which concerned Williamsburg Aquatic Club members plan to install a new board of directors, the current board is moving forward with coaching and scheduling changes as the fall season approaches.
On Monday, the Board of Directors sent an email to the membership announcing Morgan Cordle as the new interim head coach. She was also named Level A and Level C coach.
In addition to Cordle’s promotion, the club announced four new coaches — Jenna Heuser, Sandi Willard, Rachael Davis and Rachel Cortright — at various levels of swimming.
The changes come after Assistant Head Coach Chris Hanks, who was appointed the interim head coach of the club after the firing of club founder and head coach Harold Baker, was also terminated by the Board of Directors.
In an email to the WAC membership, Hanks said the Board of Directors gave him an “ultimatum” that he declare his intentions to continue serving as the head coach of WAC if Baker was not reinstated after the special meeting.
Hanks, a WAC coach for 17 years, told the Board of Directors he would not continue coaching for WAC if Baker was not reinstated and wanted to wait until the special meeting – scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at the James City County Rec Center – before making a concrete decision about his future with WAC.
Those against the board’s recent actions, including the termination of Baker, plan to issue a vote of no confidence, dissolve the current board and elect a new board at Sunday’s meeting.
Sarah Podolin, a vocal member of the WAC Concerned Parents and Alumni, said within a half hour of Hanks giving his answer to the Board of Directors the membership received an email from the board claiming Hanks had resigned from his position.
Three other WAC coaches — Matt Peters, Julie Brenegan Singley and Lindsey Winston — joined Hanks in his stance not to coach for WAC if Baker was not reinstated. The three are no longer listed as coaches on WAC’s official team website.
Board members Luis Long and Ted Lynch deferred WYDaily’s requests for comment to President Rebecca Cristol, who did not return multiple calls.
The Board of Directors also announced the restructuring of practice schedules for lower level swimmers. Level G and F swimmers, the two youngest age groups within WAC, have lost 30 minutes and one hour of weekly in-pool practice time, respectively.
Practice schedules for the upper-tier swimmers in WAC’s Levels A and C have been largely unaffected by the recent scheduling changes.
The ongoing WAC controversy has roots in Level A: Swimmers complained about Baker’s coaching style for the elite level. After an investigation into the complaints – and an email from Baker to the membership in which he said he feared for his job, which the board said “showed poor judgment” – the club’s founder was fired.
Some Level A swimmers have recently taken to social media to not only defend their initial complaints against Baker, but also to speak against his firing.
Posting in the Williamsburg Aquatic Club Concerned Parents and Alumni Facebook page, the swimmers said while they had the utmost respect for Baker, they believed his coaching methods had become repetitive and less effective for elite swimmers. They appealed to the board to have Cordle, who had success with Level C swimmers, as their new coach.
At no point, the Level A swimmers said, did they want Baker fired or removed from WAC. If Baker is reinstated, the Level A swimmers will still stand by their initial claims of coaching changes needed for the elite level swimmers in WAC.
The Level A swimmers who commented on the Facebook page join the dozens of testimonials that have been posted on that page and in other letters of support for Baker since his termination July 28.
The letters began when WAC members became aware of Baker’s shaky employment status in the days ahead of his firing, and the outpouring of support from members, parents and alumni has been steady since.
Bobby Jacobsen, a WAC alumnus, compiled nearly 50 letters in support of Baker, some of which were sent to the Board before his firing.
The testimonials about Baker’s influence on swimmers have continued through this week, including one from Ruth Anne Thomas – a WAC swimmer from 1987 to 2003, a WAC coach for three years and a recent inductee into the William & Mary Hutchinson Hall of Fame.
“I am forever grateful for all the amazing memories that I have made with many of you in the pool, with Harold as our leader and coach,” Thomas wrote. “He is truly one of my heroes and nothing will ever change that. I know so many of you feel that way too.”
Going beyond letters, an online petition and fundraiser have been created on behalf of Baker. To date, more than $6,000 has been raised for Baker’s potential legal fees while more than 100 people have signed a petition showing support for Baker.
Members of the WAC Concerned Parents and Alumni Group organized a rally Sunday – the third since Baker’s termination. The event raised money for the GoFundMe account, and the proposed new board of directors were available to speak with WAC members about its vision.
Though they cannot attend Sunday’s meeting, alumni and other Baker supporters have said they plan to be outside of the meeting at the Rec Center to show support.