A fired New Jersey high school football coach — who says he was asked to "get more white players on the field" — believes he was pushed out of his job because of the "ratio of black to white students" on his team.
Camden Catholic history teacher Nick Strom, who coached football and golf, was informed by school president Mary Whipkey and principal Heather Crisci on Friday that his teaching contract is not being renewed for next year. On Monday, Strom confirmed to Philly.com that he'd been dismissed from his coaching positions and placed on paid administrative leave.
“I think this is from me not conforming with their viewpoints on what they want the student body and the football team to look like,” Strom said, via the Courier Post. “I’ve tried to build this program into one that’s based on kids being of ability, high character and high grades.
“From day one, the administration told me they did not approve of the ratio of black to white students.”
Camden Catholic denies these claims. "We do not comment on personnel matters, but it has come to our attention that he has chosen to muddy the reasons for his dismissal with baseless accusations against the school and administration," the school said. "Any concern about racism or racial insensitivity is taken seriously and investigated fully."
On Monday, 22 students reportedly walked out of Camden Catholic in protest.
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About half of Camden Catholic’s players are minorities, the report said. According to school records, the school's total population is 60% white, 16% black, 14% Asian and 9% Hispanic.
Two years ago, the Diocese of Camden, which oversees Camden Catholic High School, issued a directive prohibiting any student-athletes from kneeling during the national anthem. Diocese of Camden school superintendent Mary Boyle, in a letter to school administrators, threatened to suspend any players or kick them off the team entirely, if they took a knee.
Strom, who said he plans to file a grievance with the teachers’ union, alleges he felt racism as far back as 2013, his first year on the job, telling Philly.com that Whipkey once asked him to “get more white players on the field” to better connect with alumni.
“When I’d have a list of potential freshmen, the first question I’d be asked is if they were white or black,” he said. “I was confused about why the question was, ‘How can we get more white players in the program or on the field?’”
Whipkey denies the allegations.
"We are not that kind of environment and we take it very seriously when those accusations are made," Whipkey told the Courier-Post. "This is a special community here. We embrace our diversity here. Those accusations are not true."
Whipkey said she outlined the reasons for Strom’s dismissal in a letter late last month. Those included Strom violating the school’s dress code, being disrespectful when questioned about his attire, leaving class early to prepare for golf, confronting a faculty member in front of students, leaving his class unsupervised while he talked to a college coach, and allowing students to leave his classroom to “hang out in other areas of the school.”
Strom's teams went 34-6 during his four seasons as football coach. He intends to continue his coaching career.