JAMES CITY COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Longtime Williamsburg swim coach Harold Baker was suddenly fired from Williamsburg Aquatic Club this week. Williamsburg Aquatic Club, also known as WAC, was founded by Baker in 1979.
“He is basically the face of swimming in Williamsburg,” said Hannah Clymer, who swam for Baker’s competitors for years before joining his club one year ago.
Katie Hoff, an Olympic swimmer coached by Baker, described her outrage over the firing on Twitter:
— Katie Hoff (@khoff09) July 29, 2015
Margaret Williams, who is hoping to swim at the collegiate level, said Baker has reached out to college coaches for her. “He truly cares about each one of his athletes in a way that I’ve never had a coach care about me before,” said Williams.
On Wednesday, dozens of swimmers, parents and alumni gathered at the Eastern State Hospital Pool, which is known as “the Bubble,” for an impromptu rally in support of Baker.
Tuesday morning, members received an email from the WAC Board of Directors. The letter, provided by a parent and board president Rebecca Cristol, said, “the Board has decided to terminate Harold Baker’s employment as Head Coach.”
The letter later stated, “We know that this decision is very troubling and the board will explain our reasons in complete detail at the membership-only meeting.”
According to the WAC board members, three issues had been identified that had been met with “resistance or indifference.”
– Failure to certify coaches
– Failure to Support/Implement Best Practices
– Poor communication
Cristol did not give any specifics on the issues and how they played a role in Baker’s termination. She did say the members-only meeting will be held Friday, July 31 from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the James City County Rec Center.
WAVY.com has learned a former board member Kara Burrows resigned three weeks ago during the controversy regarding Baker. Parents at Wednesday’s rally also said another board member is in the process of resigning.
Sarah Podolin, a WAC parent, led the rally outside the Bubble Wednesday. Podolin said WAC deserved more transparency if the coach of 37 years was going to be fired. She said the decision to fire Baker was made by a small group of parents who are not happy with him.
“They cited reasons that are, in my opinion, inaccurate and disingenuous,” said Podolin.
Podolin and several other parents at Wednesday’s rally said they plan to call a working meeting with the WAC Board of Directors. Not only do they plan on having Baker’s termination revoked, they want a public apology for Baker. Podolin said several members are seeking legal counsel to figure out how the current board might be dissolved and new leadership could be established.
In response to the issues the board raised about Baker, Podolin said, “You have to be notified of what the problem is.”
She went on, “You have to be given time to address it. It’s our understanding that this may not have occured. We don’t know because no information has been given to the club.”