CHARLESTON - The procedure concerning the suspension of two Nitro High School baseball coaches has been upside down from the start.

But for now, head coach Steve Pritchard and assistant Brian Withrow are back where things make sense - in the dugout.

That's until at least May 22, when another hearing will help determine the fate of the two. On May 5, Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib granted a temporary injunction of the suspension, saying the procedure by which it was determined was not fair.

"Basically, it was our position that Coach Pritchard was disciplined without a hearing and without an interview," said Martin Smith, attorney for Pritchard and Withrow. "They did not interview him prior to issuing him the original suspension.

"That's why we went down and got the injunction, so he could continue to coach until a formal hearing could be held and both sides can hear evidence presented."

On March 3, Nitro's baseball team held a sleepover at the school that was to supervised by Pritchard and Withrow. It is alleged that four players tied up two freshman teammates and flicked them in the groin. Another player says he was pushed into the shower.

The players who allegedly took part in the hazing were suspended for four games.

Kanawha County Board of Education attorney Jim Withrow says that there are false reports circulating that the coaches have been suspended for two years, though he admits things were done backwards.

Instead of the normal Board procedure that involves a recommendation, hearing and a vote by a panel, the suspension was handed down after an investigation by school officials.

"Before an employee can be suspended, there has to be a recommendation from the Superintendent and a vote by the Board. Of course, none of that happened," Jim Withrow said. "They were suspended with pay pending further discipline from a recommendation or hearing.

"We never got to that point. The court adjoined us from taking further action."

In fact, Jim Withrow said the Board of Education had no response to the plaintiffs' petition for the injunction.

"We think we need to proceed with our own internal actions," he said.

Strangely, in the next hearing, both sides will use the same argument - with a twist.

Smith contends that because the two coaches weren't present when the hazing occurred, they shouldn't be liable for what went on outside their presence.

Jim Withrow says, "That's kind of our whole point. They have a duty to supervise. You don't walk away and leave students unattended for several hours."

Smith's side contends that the coaches will have their suspension lifted after the next hearing.

"They did not participate in this. They did not condone it," Smith said. "They did not have any knowledge of it. We think the evidence will vindicate them."

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-806

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