Middleton boys tennis coach fired after angering 'the wrong parent'

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton principal Peg Shoemaker (shown here) and athletic director Jamie Sims fired boys tennis coach Henry Johnson on May 22.

Middleton’s boys tennis team is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state.

The Cardinals are heavy favorites to win the first state championship in school history.

But head coach Henry Johnson — who led Middleton to a 19-0 start — won’t be along for the rest of the journey.

Johnson was fired on May 22 after angering what he said was “the wrong parent.”

Johnson sat one of Middleton’s doubles players at the Big Eight Conference meet on May 17-18 because that player had called two of his teammates “scum bags” at practice the previous week. The disciplinary action was for the conference meet only.

That decision started a chain of events in which athletic director Jamie Sims added MHS girls coach Matt Given and former boys coach Tony Mirasola to Johnson’s staff. Johnson says when he voiced concern over that plan, and told Sims he didn’t feel supported, he was terminated.

Given and Mirasola will now coach the team the final two weeks of the season.

Middleton is at the individual state tournament this weekend, and the state team tournament on June 9-10.

“Jamie backed down to a parent that has some power over there,” Johnson said. “It’s really unfortunate.

“I wanted character to mean something in our program, and we had a player who had an outburst so I changed the lineup. I knew it was risky, knowing who his Dad was. But I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Sims refused comment, while superintendent Dana Monogue didn’t return messages.

Johnson’s dismissal is simply the latest in a recent series of black eyes inside Middleton’s athletic department.

Former Middleton football Jason Pertzborn resigned in late-January in the wake of a bullying scandal inside his program. An investigation by the school district and the Middleton Police Department into allegations of “student-to-student conduct” eventually led to Pertzborn’s resignation. The district’s investigation is still ongoing.

When Middleton tried hiring a new football coach several candidates turned the position down, even though MHS has the longest streak in Wisconsin of playoff appearances by a Division 1 school.

In February, legendary wrestling coach Dave Miller — who was serving as a Middleton assistant coach — was fired following a misunderstanding in which he hugged his granddaughter.

Now the latest controversy comes after Sims and principal Peg Shoemaker told Johnson that he was fired.

“I feel like I was a sacrificial lamb,” Johnson said. “One angry Dad pulled some strings and the athletic director certainly didn’t have my back.”

Middleton’s boys tennis program has had very little stability through the years. But Johnson, a first-year coach who grew up in Connecticut and played collegiately at Grinnell (Iowa), was drawing rave reviews through the state for how his team was representing itself.

“Things were definitely different with how Middleton conducted itself this year,” one Milwaukee-area coach, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Times-Tribune. “They’ve never been known for being good sports or showing much sportsmanship. But Henry was changing that.”

Things changed for Johnson, though, after he altered his lineup before the two-day conference meet.

First, Johnson said the tires on his car were slashed.

Second, while Johnson was coaching at conference on May 17, he received a text from Sims asking to meet later that night. At that meeting, Sims told Johnson his plan was to bring Given and Mirasola onto his staff.

In tennis, only two coaches are allowed to be on the court to talk with players. Sims told Johnson he could keep the title of head coach, but Given and Mirasola would be the ones coaching players at practice and during matches.

“If I wasn’t going to be one of the coaches on the court, what was I supposed to do during these matches?” Johnson asked. “It didn’t make any sense.”

Johnson finished coaching the Big Eight tournament on May 18 and helped lead Middleton to a championship there. Johnson then took the Cardinals to the I-94 tournament near Milwaukee on May 19-20 where they also finished first despite being without two of their top four singles players.

When Johnson returned home on May 20, he said he called Sims and expressed concern over a “lack of support.”

“He told me it was Saturday night and he didn’t want to talk about,” Johnson said. “Then he just hung up on me.”

Johnson said Sims called him on May 21 and told him to take a one week absence from the team. According to Johnson, Sims also told him he couldn’t attend any of Middleton’s matches, talk to any players on the team or talk with any coaches in the state about what had transpired.

“I didn’t know Middleton was North Korea,” Johnson said.

At that point, Johnson emailed Monogue asking to talk.

Monogue responded: “Henry, I’m sorry but I won’t speak with you. Please continue to communicate with Jamie Sims.”

Later that day, Johnson received an email from Shoemaker that read: “I direct you to stop emailing Dr. Monogue.”

Shoemaker’s email also told Johnson to come to MHS on May 22 to meet with her and Sims. Johnson was then fired at that meeting.

“We had something special going and the administration let one angry parent get in the way,” Johnson said. “It’s really unfortunate.

“Taking the team away from me was not the right thing to do. Bending to appease one angry parent is not the way to go. It’s all like one bad dream.”

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