FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Nearly 30 children could be sidelined from playing Pop Warner in Fort Pierce this season at no fault of their own.
They have paid to play, they have their gear. The only thing missing is a head junior varsity coach, which the Fort Pierce league desperately needs.
That is also why dozens of families are concerned and wondering why a perfectly qualified coach was just pulled from the position.
Coach Rick Meltzer has been a JV Coach for the Treasure Coast Football Conference in Port St. Lucie for seven years. In that time, he’s successfully won championships and built strong relationships with his players.
This season, he was not needed in Port St. Lucie. So, Meltzer said he offered to coach in Fort Pierce to fill the need there.
He was approved to coach, and looking forward to it.
So was the President of the Fort Pierce league, Lionel Dunbar, “because of his dedication to the kids.”
This week, the TCFC unexpectedly changed their decision to allow Meltzer to coach for any TCFC Pop Warner teams.
Seltzer was not given an explanation, nor were his players or parents. He has no criminal record, no disciplinary record with the league, and has a good relationship with his team.
That’s why some players, parents and Meltzer believe there might be a personal reason for the decision by several members of the TCFC board. They fear an unknown personal issue is getting in the way of the children’s football dreams.
“We just think it’s ridiculous,” said player Eden James. “Right now it seems they’re making it about themselves and not us.”
Meltzer agreed. “They’ve given up on the kids.”
James played for Meltzer in Port St. Lucie. His mother, Kennel Day, liked Meltzer so much, she decided she would travel to Fort Pierce this season so her son could keep playing for Meltzer.
“He comes out here and the kids get along well with him, he will pick children up. He will give them a ride,” Day said. She says Meltzer has even bought cleats for kids in need.
She’s among the parents demanding answers.
“He’s coached for seven years so why now,” Day asked.
WPTV reached out to regional and local officials in the Pop Warner system.
Region Director for the Southeast Region of Pop Warner, Dennis Connors, responded Wednesday afternoon with the following statement:
“No individual has a right to be part of Pop Warner. It is a privilege. All coaches are terminated on December 31st of each year and must reapply to coach again the following year. In this case, the League Board made the decision not to approve Mr. Meltzer for the 2017. This is solely at the discretion of the league. Having a history of no disciplinary action is only one factor considered.”
“The league acted within their authority making the decision they believed to be in the best interest of their program, with the full knowledge and backing of the Region and National offices,” Connors concluded.
Meltzer wants to know why his application was approved, but suddenly rejected so close to the start of the season.
Dunbar is also hoping TCFC officials will change their mind and allow a desired coach to take the field.
“I would hope they would rethink their decision.”
Connors said he believes it is highly unlikely that a team will go lacking for a coach. Further, there are provisions for allowing kids to move to other teams, if a team folds, so that they will be able to play. “This is really not about the kids playing,” Connors said.
Dunbar disagrees. He says nearly 30 kids will not have a team without a coach.
Some parents also do not want to transfer to teams that might be further away from home.
Meltzer has complained to the city and asked the NAACP to look into this. He also hopes the national level of the league will get involved.