Area coaches react to ‘death threat’ allegations by Middletown coach

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Area coaches react to ‘death threat’ allegations by Middletown coach

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After two seasons, Lance Engleka, Middletown High School football coach, resigned, citing online “death threats” as one reason in his letter of resignation. The Middies were 1-19 under Engleka, including an 18-game losing streak. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

After Middletown High School’s football coach resigned, citing he received online “death threats,” football coaches and administrators reacted, saying they were shocked and concerned that parents allegedly involved had lost perspective.

Lance Engleka, who coached the Middies for two seasons, compiling a 1-19 record, wrote a resignation letter last week that detailed some of his reasons for resigning, including being the target of “deceitful attacks” from parents and community members, and saying the threats against him, his family and coaching staff created an “unsafe environment” that he refused to tolerate.

Area football coaches and administrators who spoke with this newspaper said criticism from parents and fans comes with the high-profile positions, but death threats and other forms of physical abuse are “stepping over the line.”

Two former Middletown High School football coaches — Jim Place and Chip Otten — said they feel “terrible” for Engleka and the alleged threats aren’t a reflection of the community or district.

“Nobody should have to go through that,” said Place, a longtime high school coach who just resigned from Ponitz High School. “I can guarantee that 99.9 percent of Middletown people are just as sick about it as everybody. You still feel for Lance; he’s the one going through it.”

Otten, who was Middletown’s head coach for six seasons, said he sometimes received late-nights calls from Middletown parents frustrated by their son’s lack of playing time, but he “never felt threatened.”

He also said social media has given upset fans an outlet to express their frustrations toward the coach.

“It’s easy when you’re typing and texting and tweeting,” he said. “When you’re not face to face with someone, it’s a lot easier to say things. You don’t have to deal with the person emotionally.”

Engleka refused to address his allegations, saying his reasons were listed in his resignation letter. Middletown High School Athletic Director Aaron Zupka referred all media questions to Middletown Superintendent Marlon Styles.

Styles said he was “shocked” to learn Engleka wrote he received death threats and he assured the community the district has always taken safety steps.

After this news agency broke the story about Engleka’s letter of resignation, the school district and City of Middletown released a joint statement saying the district “takes the safety and well-being of our students and staff seriously.”

Middletown police said Engleka never filed a police report regarding the alleged online threats.

The district said a School Resource Officer is on the field at all football games.

Middletown City Schools does not tolerate inappropriate behavior from any spectators, according to a statement from the district.

Lakota East Athletic Director Rich Bryant said he was “disappointed” and “very shocked” when he read the allegations made by Engleka. He said parents and fans need to remember high school sports are played by student-athletes and coached by those who “love” the game.

Every Friday night, “all that should happen in harmony,” he said. “It’s just a game.”

Bryant said he believes the alleged incidents are not a reflection of the Middletown community and its storied high school athletic department. He respects Engleka and the entire Middie program, he said.

But, he said, those alleged threats have “cast a negative shadow” over the district and the community.

Matt Morrison, a first-year athletic director at Madison High School, called the alleged actions against Engleka “intolerable” and said they indicate people have lost perspective on what “truly matters.”

Morrison’s said he’s never been told that any of his coaches have received physical threats and for that, he’s thankful.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a sporting event,” he said. “Sure, we value athletics here, but there is life other than the game.”

Engleka’s allegations were the first time Steve Shuck, commissioner of the Greater Miami Conference, where Middletown is a member, has heard of a coach receiving a death threat. Engleka wrote the threat was received on a computer and Shuck believes social media has changed the way people communicate because sometimes they can remain anonymous.

“They fear nothing,” he said. “I don’t know what would drive a person to do that. They don’t seem to care. Things have changed drastically.”

Former Fenwick High School football coach Chris Roark, who just completed his second season at Fairborn High School, said the severity of criticism toward coaches has “escalated” during his 15-year coaching career that included stops at Alter and Jefferson. There was a time, he said, if fans were upset with a coach, they would yell, “Fire the coach.”

Those type of comments “come with the territory,” Roark said. He said coaches understand they’re judged by hundreds of fans every day and thousands of fans every Friday night.

But a physical threat is “a totally different level,” Roark said.

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