Days before Saturday’s league championship meet, Seoul American High School’s cross country coaches resigned and as many as 13 runners walked off the team in a flap with school administration, sources told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.

Seoul American’s acting athletic director Denny Hilgar and DODDS-Korea district chief of staff Tony Harris confirmed the coaches’ resignations. Roger Kacmarski was appointed interim coach, and 25 runners remain, enough for the team to continue competing, Harris said.

Hilgar said a “conflict of philosophies between administration and the cross country coach staff” led to the departure of head coach Itza Baker on Monday and assistant Scott Bittner on Wednesday. Hilgar did not elaborate.

Harris said a disagreement cropped up between coaches and school administration over an “incident involving a student,” who is a runner on the team. He did not provide specifics but said the coaches wanted harsher penalties meted out to the student and that principal Robert Sennett disagreed.

Hilgar would only describe the situation as “touchy,” adding that things had been building toward critical mass all season and that things “came to a head” in the past three to four days.

Contacted at the school by telephone, Baker cited “lack of support from administration” over the incident that led to her resignation. She declined to elaborate, saying she had been advised by the Teachers Education Association of Korea not to comment.

Phone and e-mail messages to TEAK president Betty Gossett, a Seoul American Elementary School educator, were not returned Wednesday.

Bittner referred all questions to school administration. No information was provided by the school or the DODDS-Korea DSO other than the statement provided by Harris.

The “incident is under investigation” by DODDS-Korea officials, Harris’ statement said, adding that “we do not comment on an investigation or disciplinary action concerning a student.”

Harris and Hilgar each said enough runners remained to field a team for Saturday’s Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference meet and next month’s DODDS-Pacific Far East meet at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Zach Vogt, who was captain of the team, said he was among 13 members who signed a paper this week saying they were quitting.

Vogt and Antonio Echevarria, who also signed the paper, said they left the team because Baker and Bittner resigned. “I didn’t want to represent a team that would go on running after what happened,” said Echevarria, 17.

Vogt, also 17, said Sennett “would not allow [Baker] to enforce the rules she should be allowed to enforce as a coach.”

Vogt and Echevarria spoke of the incident in which the student in question allegedly threw a milk carton, a soda can and a banana peel into traffic out a window of a bus taking the team to Camp Humphreys for a meet two weeks ago.

Harris said the incident “did not involve the safety of anyone, students or vehicles.”

Echevarria said “this was not the first act” involving the student, adding that the runner was known to be verbally abusive to the coaches and skip practice.

“The whole team knew how [the student] felt about coach Baker,” Echevarria said.

The student is “definitely disruptive to the team” and creates a “general sense of discomfort,” Vogt said. “We lost two good coaches and gained a disrespectful team member.”

Under Baker and Bittner’s coaching this year, the girls’ team went 7-0; the boys’ team is 5-2.

Vogt said he’ll miss running for the Falcons, but feels it would be unethical to return to the team under the current circumstances.

He said he regrets missing Saturday’s KAIAC meet. “I’m dying to go to it,” Vogt said, “but I won’t.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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