Conflict Over Alumni Field Use Leads to Dismissal of Men’s Soccer Coach

Jacob Cooper called SHPD after 15 football alumni sharing turf with women’s soccer team refused to leave the field when he told them to.

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Conflict Over Alumni Field Use Leads to Dismissal of Men’s Soccer Coach

The men’s varsity soccer team line up before a game against Brunswick Aug. 28.

The men’s varsity soccer team line up before a game against Brunswick Aug. 28.

Ben Stefanski

The men’s varsity soccer team line up before a game against Brunswick Aug. 28.

Ben Stefanski

Ben Stefanski

The men’s varsity soccer team line up before a game against Brunswick Aug. 28.

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Men’s varsity soccer coach Jacob Cooper’s contract was not renewed after he told a group of football alumni to leave the turf field during men’s and women’s soccer practices July 10 and called police when they refused.

The alumni were working out on the high school’s turf field at Russell H. Rupp Stadium July 10 while both soccer programs shared the field for practice from 5-7 p.m. According Cameron Jones (’19), one of the football alumni, the group had permission to use the women’s half of the field.

“We asked the girls’ captains and we asked the [women’s] coach,” Jones said.

In an email, women’s varsity coach Rick Nerrone said, “Unfortunately that happened my first day as head coach for the girls. I don’t really have much to add.”

The women’s team has held captain’s practices on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the summer and had already restricted its July 10 captain’s practice to half of the turf field to accommodate a men’s 5-7 p.m. practice for underclassmen. Men’s soccer upperclassmen were scheduled to practice from 7-9 p.m. on the turf as well. The men’s team practiced that Wednesday to accommodate Case Western Reserve University players who had been invited to join them.

“Our practice schedule for that week was different than our usual weeks,” said men’s varsity captain Will Sola, a senior.

According to a Shaker Heights Police Department call for service report obtained by The Shakerite, 15 “kids” were on the field, and Cooper directed them to leave. He called the police at 6:46 p.m. when the alumni refused to go.

The SHPD call for service report narrative stated, “Spoke with Jake Cooper, he advised kids were on the field without permission. The group was advised to speak to the high school athletic director for future use of the field. The field caller is the school soccer coach at the turf field at the high school.”

Principal Eric Juli said he investigated Cooper’s actions and decided not to renew his contract. In an email sent to the families of both the men’s and women’s soccer programs, Juli wrote, “I have informed Mr. Jacob Cooper that he will not be issued a coaching contract for the 2019-20 school year. Boys junior varsity coach Oliver Mason will continue overseeing summer soccer activities while we conduct a search for a new boys soccer coach.”

The Shakerite contacted Cooper but he declined to comment.

Cooper coached at Orange and Nordonia high schools for 13 years prior to his arrival at Notre Dame College as an assistant coach in  2013. In 2005, while coaching at Orange High School, he was named Public School Coach of the Year by the News Herald. In 2018, Cooper became Shaker’s head varsity men’s soccer coach.

During Cooper’s one-year tenure, the Raiders went 10-4-4, losing 1-0 to Hudson in the sectional final in double overtime.

Captain’s practices are led by upperclassmen. Weekly practice times are communicated between the teams and the athletic department.

“We were under the impression that we had the turf that day 5-7 like we usually do — Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays for captain’s practices,” said varsity women’s captain Kenzie Trotter, a senior. “There was no communication between the athletic department, the boys’ team and the girls’ team,” she said, so the women did not know that the men’s team was also set to practice from 5-7 p.m.

The Shakerite contacted Athletic Director Don Readance. He declined to comment and referred to Juli’s comments.

Both teams then agreed to share the field from 5-7 p.m. The football alumni remained on the women’s side of the field.  “We were practicing, and then our coach had given those boys permission to play on whatever we weren’t using,” said Trotter. “We were OK with that and we would play around them. It was not causing any issues.”

Trotter said Cooper approached the football players and told them to get off the turf. “He didn’t really give anybody much room to talk. Me and the other captains were trying to tell him our coach said it was OK. He left to go back to his practice and the football players remained where they were,” she said.

Five minutes later,  she said, Cooper came back and demanded the football players leave. “He kept ignoring us and talking over us. He was not listening to the people who it really affected,” Trotter said.

“We were all working out and spending time with each other before we left [for college],” Jones said. “We usually go up every other day while the field is empty. Sometimes there are teams using the field, and we have shared it with teams before. We always ask respectfully if we can use the turf.”

“We tried telling the boys coach, but he didn’t seem to care.”

Cooper then called the police after the men still refused to leave the field. The call type was labeled “Complaints-Juvenile” by the SHPD.

“The police came while we were putting on our cleats,” Sola said. “They [the football players] all talked to the cops on the field, Cooper and all of the players. Readance later showed up to the field and talked to Cooper for about 20 to 30 minutes.”

“He told them multiple times to leave and they didn’t. For some reason it got to the point that he had to call the police,” Sola said.

In a July 19 phone interview, Juli said that he did not fire Cooper. “I decided not to renew his contract for the new year,” said Juli, who was named principal May 10. “He still has a coaching license and he’s still able to coach with anybody. There’s no impact on that.”

Juli explained why he made the decision.“In my investigation I learned that the young men playing football did in fact ask permission from the girls’ soccer coach to play, as well as the captain. I investigated the situation over the past week and I talked to everyone I felt I needed to talk to and in the end, I wasn’t going to renew his contract for the upcoming year.”

“I think we’ve got plenty of time and a lot of opportunity to find a great candidate and this should not impact the start of the season at all.”

Senior Jacob Tinnon said the incident would not hold the team back from reaching their potential.  “Did I think they would let him go at all? No. Am I disappointed by it? No. I know we have a good group of players and we will work past this and bounce back,” he said.

The decision adds to the coaching turnover — both involuntary and voluntary — that has occurred since the beginning of 2018 in sports including football, cheerleading, men’s lacrosse, women’s basketball, crew, softball and women’s soccer.

Head football coach Jarvis Gibson resigned after the district discovered Jonathan Harrell, who had a criminal record, had been serving as a volunteer football coach. Before school began last year, the head cheerleading coach declared her intent to retire after 23 years. Later, an assistant cheerleading coach resigned before the district concluded that she had bullied a cheerleader by body-shaming her.

In addition, head men’s lacrosse coach Jason Griffith resigned last spring. Denise Duncan, former head women’s basketball coach, stepped down in February. Kristen Harter, former softball head coach, and Bob Valerian, former head crew coach, also stepped down.

Juli also wrote in the email, “We are committed to continuous improvement so that all Shaker Heights High School students, including our student-athletes, have positive and meaningful learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. Moving forward, we will examine our hiring and boarding practices as well as professional learning opportunities for coaches.”

Editor-in-chief Mae Nagusky contributed reporting.

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