By Jeff Odom
The Wiregrass Ranch baseball team enjoyed its most successful season in program history this year, but the Bulls will be moving forward without their coach, Jeff Swymer, who resigned his position June 13.
According to Pasco County School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, the 32-year-old Swymer was facing a one-year suspension from coaching after an anonymous letter was sent to the board saying that he consumed alcohol in front of his players at an evening event during a spring break tournament in March in Ft. Lauderdale.
Cobbe said Swymer took his players and parent chaperones to a bowling alley where he allegedly drank a beer with the parents while his players were present.
Although it is not a violation of Florida High School Athletic Association rules, Cobbe said county policy states that teachers and/or coaches are not allowed, under any circumstances, to drink alcohol while on the clock.
“He admitted drinking, and when he was told what the potential consequences were he said he would rather resign,” Cobbe said. “He was with the team at an out-of-town game or tournament, and he consumes alcohol in the presence of players. Not all players’ parents were there, so he had supervisory responsibility over those students. He technically was on duty 24/7, and employees can’t consume alcohol while on duty.”
Swymer, who is not a member of the Wiregrass Ranch faculty, could not be reached for comment, but expressed his appreciation for the support in an email to parents obtained by The Laker/Lutz News and said he was sorry for the incident.
“I have a hard time accepting this punishment (without) having the opportunity to defend myself, meet the accusers, or have people who (were) at the event interviewed for their side of the story,” Swymer wrote. “With that being said, I am announcing my resignation from the position of head baseball coach at Wiregrass Ranch High School.
“I can honestly say I tried to do everything in my power to make this a top-of-the-line program and one of the best teams in the state,” Swymer continued. “We have been able to accomplish many great things based on the hard work of your kids and their hard work. I have no doubt the foundation laid for this program will continue to carry the program in the right direction. I wish I was going to be a part of that continued growth, however, I’m sure the administration will do their best to bring in someone who they feel can do it better than I have.”
Some of Swymer’s players came to his defense on social media, including recent University of North Florida commit and junior pitcher Austin Drury.
“Coach swymer is wiregrass baseball,” Drury wrote on his Twitter page. “Can’t do it without him, bring him back!”
Added senior infielder and pitcher Zach Crissey: “I just wanted to say coach swymer was one of the many people who inspired me to become a seal if that should speak of his character.”
Swymer was 76-33 and won two Sunshine Athletic Conference titles in four years at the helm of the Bulls. The team finished a program-best 19-10 this season and clinched its first playoff berth before making a run to the Class 7A region finals by defeating Countryside and upsetting nationally ranked Steinbrenner.
He was also the offensive line coach with the Wiregrass Ranch football team, which is looking to snap its streak of two consecutive winless seasons, and most recently worked during the team’s spring jamboree where the Bulls won both of their games.
“I would like to thank the players for their hard work and commitment to not only Wiregrass Ranch but to me,” Swymer said. “They gave me great effort during my time and often did more than I even thought they were capable of at times. I have demanded a lot out of them in regards to our off-season strength and conditioning program, the practice schedule we run and the fall tournament schedule we play, but they have never complained and handled everything I threw at them. This will be very beneficial for the guys who have the opportunity to play at the next level, as well as the guys that move on to college as students. … I hope the administration can find someone who cares as much about these kids as I do and is willing to put in the amount of time it takes to keep this the best baseball program in Pasco County.”
Cobbe said the school will not face any punishment.
“The school does not face penalties,” Cobbe said. “But I can tell you that everyone is sick about this, because he’s a good, well-respected coach and has been successful at Wiregrass Ranch.”
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