In a moment of frustration, a coach’s future has been known to hang in the balance. Mike Vanderjagt, former NFL football place-kicker and part-time coach for Marco Island’s Charter Middle School, has reached such a moment.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the charter school board voted 4-2 to leave the matter, referred to as “the incident,” regarding Vanderjagt in the hands of the principal. That is where it should be, they said. Vanderjagt asked for understanding. His supporters pointed to his service to school and students.
The incident took place on March 12 when Marco Island Police responded to a call from Mark Albanese, dean of students at the school, who reported an adult male grabbed a student by the throat. Since the incident happened at the end of day, the student involved and witnesses had gone home.
Police investigated the following day, talking to students at the scene and to Vanderjagt. One student was taunting Vanderjagt by yelling “wide left, wide left” through a rolled-up poster board that acted as a megaphone, according to a Marco police report.
“During his career, he missed a very important field goal attempt during a playoff game,” the report stated. Vanderjagt played for the Indianapolis Colts and was one of the most accurate place-kickers ever in the league.
Vanderjagt, a school parent and volunteer, was walking through the parking lot when he overheard the comments. One student alleged Vanderjagt walked up to him, grabbed him by the throat and started cursing at him, according to the police report. Another student corroborated his story.
Vanderjagt told police, after hearing the taunting remarks, he approach the student placing his hand on the child’s shoulder at the base of his neck. Vanderjagt told police some students had been making disparaging remarks toward him for months. He said he had become fed up with the behavior.
The reason he touched the child, Vanderjagt told police, was to hold him in place while he spoke to him. Vanderjagt stated he had no intention of hurting or threatening the student. He also mentioned that George Abounader, the school’s principal, was in the area at the time of the incident.
On April 26, officers spoke to Abounader who said he was in the parking lot at the time of the incident but was focused on directing traffic and providing safe walkways for students. He said he did not see the incident.
A check of school video cameras revealed a tree obscured the camera’s view of the incident. Vanderjagt was seen on the tape walking away from the obstructed area toward the gymnasium.
Police sent the report to the State Attorney’s office for review. On May 14, police received correspondence from Assistant State Attorney Richard Montecaivo letting the department know the case had been reviewed and no charges would be issued against Vanderjagt.
Directly after the incident, Vanderjagt was suspended from coaching, a normal procedure when an incident involved school personnel, Abounader told the Eagle.
Vanderjagt told school board members Wednesday he talked to the student’s parents two days after the incident and apologized. The student, he said, apologized to him, too.
Roger Raymond, athletic director at the middle school, told the school board he had waited for the State Attorney’s report, and when no charges were filed, he felt comfortable asking Vanderjagt to coach for the Marco Island Academy this fall. He also said he saw no reason why Vanderjagt should not be able to continue coaching at the middle school.
“Mike Vanderjagt wants to coach, and I don’t think that should be taken away,” Raymond said.
School board member Gayle Collins said as the volleyball coach, she worked close by Vanderjagt on many occasions. She said he was respectful of the students and even started a homework club before practices.
Douglas Dye, parent of a 6th grade student, said in his experience Vanderjagt had always been good with the students echoing his respect for them. He asked any decision consider the positive influence Vanderjagt had on the students and community.
Vanderjagt told the school board he loved coaching and valued the middle school.
This school’s athletic programs would not be where they are without the help of Vanderjagt, Raymond said.