Gross injustice?

Tom Batters
John Gross

John Gross, the two-time state champion coach of the Richwoods girls basketball team, was fired recently for something that happened a long time ago.

Gross said he was called into a meeting with Richwoods principal Steve Ptacek and two District 150 administrators last month. During that meeting, Gross was informed that he was being fired.

“They told me that it had nothing to do with basketball,” Gross said in a phone interview Friday. “They said it was because of my background. They said they would not have hired me in the first place because of my background.”

In 1996, while coaching at Limestone, Gross served 30 days in jail for a domestic violence incident.

Gross said Ptacek told him that his prior conviction would not allow him to continue coaching, since the new administration is committed to holding all its employees to higher standards.

Ptacek and others in the District 150 administration were not at Richwoods when Gross was hired by principal John Mysinger and athletic director Diane Petit in 2004.

“They (Mysinger and Petit) knew about my background when they hired me, and I don’t think I’ve let anybody down since I’ve been here,” Gross said. “I paid dearly for the mistakes I made. I went to jail and I lost my family. It’s sad that I have to pay for them again, even though I haven’t done anything wrong since I’ve been here.”

Richwoods principal Steve Ptacek said he could not disclose the reasons for Gross’s dismissal because it was a private personnel matter.

“It was a tough decision. We all know that John is a great coach,” Ptacek said. “But, I am confident that we made the right decision.”

This summer, Gross was arrested on a battery charge for making contact with a referee during a summer league game. Those charges were dropped and Gross said the issue was put to rest.

Gross said he thought the news story concerning fired Metamora teacher Stephen Chromik, who was hired to teach and coach at Metamora despite a felony conviction for aggravated assault, might have added to District 150’s reasons for his own dismissal. Chromik is in jail for having sex with a 16-year-old girl he coached.

When asked if that story influenced the decision to fire Gross, Ptacek would not comment.

“There is not much else I can say on this,” he said. “It is a personnel issue, and I cannot say anything else about it.”

Gross said the decision was unfair because he is being punished for something that the district already knew about when he was hired.

However, he said he does not plan to fight the decision any further.

“I can’t fight this on my own, without the backing of the union,” he said.

Gross was not a full-time teacher at Richwoods, so he is not a member of the teacher’s union.

“I’m gonna miss it. I care a lot about those girls and I really enjoyed coaching them,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult. That’s a big part of my life that has been taken away from me.”