Thursday, February 29, 2024

WAC Board, Members Meet for First Time Since Baker Firing

Harold Baker poses with a trio of young swimmers. (Submitted)
Harold Baker poses with a trio of young swimmers. (Submitted)

After 72 hours of anger, sadness and confusion following the controversial firing of Williamsburg Aquatic Club founder and head coach Harold Baker, the club’s embattled Board of Directors presented their arguments as to why Baker was terminated.

Prior to a members-only meeting held Friday at the James City County Recreation Center, which ended with WAC members presenting a vote of no confidence, the WAC Board of Directors issued a public statement for the first time since the firing.

In the news release, the Board of Directors said it received “serious complaints” regarding Baker’s practices while serving as the head coach.

The board described his behavior as “a trend of inaction, indifference and combativeness,” and included “consistent tardiness to practice and a lack of focus on the swimmers while on deck.”

Within the release, the Board of Directors also discussed internal disagreements over how to discipline Baker, who is currently coaching WAC swimmers at the Speedo Junior Nationals in Texas.

According to the release, two members of the Board — Member At-Large Kara Burrows and Treasurer Anna Kosteline — resigned from their positions while the remaining three members of the Board of Directors worked to develop a plan that would “change [Baker’s] status with the club as head coach.”

It was while the Board of Directors was developing this plan that Baker sent an open letter to parent members and swimmers “accusing the Board of holding secret meetings and trying to undermine his authority as head coach,” the release said.

The letter by Baker “showed poor judgment” and “underscored the hostility he felt toward the Board’s legitimate efforts to reform club management.” After declining a retirement option with severance pay, Baker was terminated from the club.

On Friday, the Board of Directors and concerned WAC members conducted an informational meeting that lasted just shy of two hours.

During the meeting, the Board of Directors went into more detail about its decision to fire Baker and the causes for the firing during a 30-minute presentation. They also fielded questions from the WAC members in attendance for about an hour.

“The meeting was civil, there were valid points,” said Betsy Lavin, a former WAC member and current WAC parent who was in attendance. “I don’t think the meeting was a complete waste of time. It was good that both sides were heard and it was good of the board to call the meeting.”

Rebecca Cristol, the president of the WAC Board of Directors, agreed with Lavin’s comments about the productivity and civility of the meeting.

“It was productive and civil. We were able to explain why we made our decision. Getting that information out to the membership was essential,” Cristol said. “It was a very difficult decision and not taken lightly by any of the board. In no way does it diminish Harold’s legacy.”

Cristol told WYDaily the board’s main complaints with Baker were for not following USA Swimming rules and not following a team policy about having two coaches on deck at all times, but would not disclose how long these complaints spanned.

She also believes the current situation would be playing out much differently had Baker not sent the public email last Sunday.

“I thought it was poor timing for our swimmers who were still competing,” she said.

When the meeting concluded, WAC members hand-delivered a letter requesting a special meeting, during which they hope to issue a vote of no confidence to the Board of Directors.

This vote would begin the process of dissolving the current Board of Directors and would theoretically pave the way for Baker’s reinstatement.

Under current WAC bylaws, the special meeting can be scheduled no sooner than 10 days after the notice is received.

“We will have the special meeting as required by our bylaws,” said Cristol when asked about the next steps for the Board of Directors. “[The WAC members] have the right to do what they want to do.”

And while the Board of Directors and the pro-Baker camp still disagree on the outcome of Baker’s termination, both sides are in mutual agreement Friday night’s meeting was healthy and necessary for both sides.

“I still disagree with the Board, but I believe they have some valid points,” Lavin said. “I believe it was a difficult decision for at least some of them to come to. I don’t think they took the decision lightly. I feel bad for everyone in the whole situation, both sides.”

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