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Independence cuts ties with softball coach Hosch

INDEPENDENCE | Lyle Hosch has dedicated much of his life to the coaching profession. He’s an old-school instructor who admittedly demands a lot from his players.

Following Hosch’s 19-year tenure as the head softball coach at Independence High School, administrators have opted for a new leader.

The 61-year-old alum of St. John High School in Independence found out in early August his coaching contract wasn’t going to be renewed for a 20th season. He’s still searching for answers why.

A self-employed owner of his own cleaning business in Independence, Hosch doesn’t teach in the school district and is an at-will employee with annual contracts and evaluations. During his Aug. 7 evaluation with athletic director Rob Arnold, Hosch says six topics were flagged as needing improvement.

The concerns ranged from joining a professional organization to public relations, attending coaching clinics and player-parent relations. Following the evaluation, the coach says he was looking for specific feedback on the ways he could improve. He insists he hadn’t heard of any concerns the past summer.

“They said they were getting a lot of complaints from parents,” Hosch related. “I said, ‘Well if it’s the parents, why can’t we sit down as adults, bring in the parents and discuss what’s going on?’ We didn’t have any complaints last summer whatsoever.

“I said I’d like to have a meeting with the superintendent. The athletic director said he’d schedule that. On Aug. 9, I got a phone call from the AD saying he came from the superintendent’s office and they weren’t going to renew my contract.”

Hosch received a letter from Independence superintendent Jean Peterson, dated Sept. 4, stating her recommendation that his head high school softball contract not be renewed for the 2013-14 season.

A copy of the letter, faxed to The Courier, also noted that Hosch could request a hearing with the school board to discuss his contract.

“After speaking with our attorney, there is no legal deadline for a requested hearing but we would schedule one as soon as possible,” Peterson, the school’s fourth-year superintendent, wrote.

Hosch’s formal request for that open hearing was later denied.

“Following your request for an open hearing on Rob Arnold’s and my decision to not renew your varsity softball coaching contract, I discussed the matter with our attorney at Ahlers Cooney,” Peterson wrote in a letter to Hosch dated Oct. 3.

The superintendent referenced Iowa Code section 279.19B(2) which states coaches who are not teachers serve at the pleasure of the school board. Their contracts expire at the end of the season and it is not necessary to show just cause to terminate this type of contract.

“Your contract is renewed only if and when the board votes to renew the contract,” Peterson’s letter continued. “We stand by our decision to not renew your contract. Based upon the advice of the district’s attorney, there is no requirement to hold a hearing on our decision so we will not be holding one.

“On behalf of the district, I want to thank you for your years of service to the district and I wish you all the best in the future.”

Hosch was told later anyone could speak for up to three minutes during the open forum portion of the regular school board meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 21. Neither members of the school board nor administrators are required to respond or acknowledge any of the speakers.

Arnold declined an opportunity to elaborate on why Hosch’s contract wasn’t renewed.

“I don’t have any comment on that,” Independence’s third-year AD told The Courier. “Obviously it’s a personnel issue. I can’t discuss the evaluation or where we ended up.”

The Independence AD did confirm his school is in an active candidate search and will be looking to bring in a new coach as soon as possible.

Some Independence softball alumni and members of the community have voiced concerns for the coaching change. A Facebook group “Support Lyle Hosch!!” currently has 208 members.

Parents have also voiced support.

“My wife and I wrote a letter to the school board saying we hoped that we would be consulted or there would be an opportunity to go before the board before any decision was made,” said Rod Nabholz, the father of one of nine Independence softball seniors slated to return next summer. “We were told there would be an opportunity to address the board. We were waiting for that to happen and then it was announced that they already made the decision.”

In addition to the evaluation he receives from administrators each season, Hosch’s players also are given an opportunity to weigh in. When his teams put away equipment at the end of summer, the coach surveys the returning athletes. He said all 17 voted to retain him and his staff for next year.

“They’re asked what don’t they like in the program and what they’d like to see changed,” Hosch said. “As far as the coaches go, if there’s coaches you don’t want back just put yes or no. You don’t put names with it. There were 17 players that said they want us back. The only two things those kids asked for this year was a larger water cooler and one girl asked for a new pair of pants. That was it.”

Hosch’s roots are firmly planted within the Independence community where he compiled a 945-427 career softball coaching record, including a 664-240 mark during his tenure at Independence High.

Hosch started coaching softball at St. John High School in 1980 where he served as a health and physical education instructor, and athletics director. He coached St. John baseball, and boys’ and girls’ basketball, as well, finishing with a winning record in each of those sports.

Hosch led the St. John softball team to the 1983 state tournament, and after the school closed in 1989 he became the head softball coach at Independence in 1995. That 1995 team reached the state tournament, and the Mustangs added a run of six state tournament appearances from 2000 to 2005 with two second-place finishes.

Larry Crawford, Hosch’s brother-in-law, is familiar with the coach’s career. Crawford’s sister and brother each had daughters who played for Hosch, and his own daughter was a sophomore on last summer’s team.

While demanding, Crawford insists players bought into Hosch’s coaching style. He also didn’t hear much concern from parents this past summer.

“I’d say very few kids had any trouble with him,” Crawford said. “They loved the challenge of playing for him. When you’ve got a bench you’re always going to have that where some players don’t get to play and some parents might not agree with his style. There really wasn’t very many.

“In fact, I thought this year the politics on the team was about non-existent. This year’s team was about as unified as I’ve ever seen it and I’ve followed Lyle’s career the whole time here.”

In addition to coaching high school athletics, Hosch invested time in developing youth. He ran workouts and winter clinics for girls as young as fourth grade.

“What’s unique about Lyle is some schools have early development programs but you don’t often see the varsity coach there running them,” Nabholz said.

When asked what he’s enjoyed most about coaching, Hosch shifts his focus to the players and their response to the challenges athletics provides.

“The best thing was the kids who came out and wanted us to teach them softball,” Hosch said. “I always told them it’s one of hardest things they’ll do.

“I get a lot of 4-point students and I said to these 4-point students, how would you like it if your grade was dependent on what all 40 kids in your class did? Take all 40 test scores and average them. You don’t have to do that when you’re in the classroom. But when you walk on the athletic field you’re all put together and you’re only as good as the weakest player we’ve got.

“I’m a real challenging coach. I challenge these kids because they are smart kids and really want to learn the game. That’s what I like about coaching softball or any sport. It’s a challenge you put in front of these kids who want to excel and they’re going to go against somebody who is going to try and take away your best. … The kids really understand that.”

While Hosch’s style may have rubbed some parents the wrong way, Nabholz insists he was consistent.

“His approach hasn’t changed and we’ve seen Lyle have success,” Nabholz said. “His coaching style is tough and there’s no other way to put it. … There are a lot of coaches out there who will pat an underperforming player on the back and say good try. That’s not Lyle’s style. He’ll tell you that you didn’t do it right, expects more and knows that you’re capable of more.

“He’ll teach you how to become better and I’ve seen that with my own daughter. Her skills have developed over the years. … My general sense is there’s a great deal of respect for Lyle. Does he make life tough on them at times, yeah, but they all understand the reasons why. Ultimately, I think he’s fair and the kids recognize that.”

For now, Hosch says his coaching plans are on hold. He’s unsure if he’ll run his pitching and catching clinic this winter that drew attendance from athletes as far away as Waterloo, West Union and Vinton.

“If I’m not going to be coaching here, whoever has got to come in and coach would probably have different ways of running things,” Hosch said.

He also isn’t currently sold on the idea of traveling from Independence to serve as a head coach in another community.

“As far as going to another school, I have no desire to do that right now just for the fact that I’d have to travel,” he added.

Crawford knows softball will be different without the long-time coach in Independence’s dugout.

“Lyle is an old-school coach and he pushes traditional values of approaching the game and playing the game,” Crawford said. “He lectures the kids on not only the game, but life – getting schoolwork done, respecting your parents. He’s kind of like a second dad to a lot of the girls here so it’s going to be real hard, especially for the girls.”

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