Whitcomb, North Idaho disagree on coach's departure

Pat Whitcomb, long-time head wrestling coach at the No. 4-ranked junior college mat program in the country, and his former employer, North Idaho College, don't seem to be able to see eye-to-eye on his recent, abrupt departure from the school where he was a two-time national champion wrestler in the 1980s before taking the helm 22 years ago.

Pat Whitcomb (Photo/Mark Lundy,
In a statement made public Thursday by two area newspapers, Whitcomb said he was fired on January 7 for what he believes are his efforts to upgrade facilities for a disabled wrestler, for speaking up for a co-worker who was assaulted on campus, and because school leaders want to drop wrestling -- arguably NIC's most successful varsity sport -- in favor of launching a baseball program.

Even the date of Whitcomb's firing is up for debate. Whitcomb maintains he was fired on January 7; a school spokesperson claimed on January 8 that he was still employed by the school. Only last week she said he was let go on January 11.

North Idaho maintains that Whitcomb was the subject of what school referred to as "an academic integrity investigation" within NIC's athletic department.

Circumstances surrounding Whitcomb's firing

In a lengthy statement issued by the former coach on Wednesday, Jan. 23 (and published in its entirety by the Coeur 'd Alene Press), Whitcomb said he was called into a meeting January 7 and given a choice: Resign his position and he would be paid through June. If he refused to resign, he would be terminated and receive only two weeks of pay and benefits. He would also have to agree "to not say anything negative about what has been taking place at NIC."

"I refused to sign, as I had done nothing wrong," Whitcomb said.

A NIC spokesperson said the school could not speak on personnel issues.

Whitcomb shares three reasons for dismissal

In his Jan. 23 statement, Pat Whitcomb shared what he believes to be the three reasons why he is no longer employed by North Idaho College.

At the top of Whitcomb's list of reasons for his firing involves Hasaan Hawthorne, 2016 Alabama 145-pound state champ, a double amputee who was born without tibias. Both his legs were amputated below the knees as a child.

"In the spring of 2016 we signed an amazing young man (Hawthorne) from Pelham, Ala. At the time of his signing with NIC, I immediately made a request to the administration requesting better access on his behalf to the wrestling room and campus," according to Whitcomb's statement.

"Still to this day, almost three years later, not one accommodation has been made for easier access to the practice room. He has to be carried or crawls up the stairs.

"I raised safety and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) concerns to the administration time and time again. Some of the feedback I was given from the administration was there was no money for this.

"Also, we were told to roll out mats on the gym floor after other practices were finished. There was a main-level room on campus that would have solved this problem. Instead, it was allocated as an off-season workout facility for other sports. The money spent on this facility would have easily covered some accommodation for the wrestler with special needs.

"The athletic director told me this was his call and that was that. I continued to raise concerns after this. It was only after this that I started to receive poor evaluations and official write-ups in my personnel file."

Whitcomb added that he had been told by NIC's disability services this past fall that "if I had not pushed so hard in the beginning, accommodations most likely would have been made."

A second reason raised by Whitcomb in his statement issued Wednesday, Jan. 23 concerning a reported assault of a female instructor last fall on the NIC campus.

"It was reported to the administration immediately. When I became aware that nothing was being done to protect her safety, I met with a number of administrators and loudly voiced my dismay," Whitcomb wrote.

"As far as I know, the campus still has not been made aware of this safety issue. Having a daughter who attends NIC this is of great concern."

Whitcomb also claimed that the school has been working towards getting rid of its successful wrestling program, which is currently tied with Iowa Central Community College for fourth place in the latest NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) national rankings.

"I have let it be known for the last three seasons of the athletic director's intent to drop wrestling and add baseball," Whitcomb stated. "Every administrator I approached at NIC assured me that this was not so. Community, just sit back and watch this unfold now.

"If NIC wants to add baseball -- a sport I would love to see reinstated -- then do so and add another female counterpart. If it wants to send a message of retaliation against standing up for what is right then drop the most successful wrestling program in the NJCAA."

North Idaho has refuted Whitcomb's claim regarding a possible replacement of wrestling with baseball.

"The college is currently conducting a community-wide study to see the viability and interest in expanding our athletics offerings," said Laura Rampler, NIC spokesperson. "This is a study and discussion about expansion of athletics. There is no discussion of decreasing any of our athletics programs."

Whitcomb went on to say, "My focus has always been plain and simple: Do what is in the best interest of NIC and the wrestling program there."

Whitcomb concluded his statement thusly:

"North Idaho College will now choose one of two paths moving forward.

"The first one, a continued path of intimidation and retaliation toward students with special needs and females on campus.

"Or a second one, a path to change the current culture and practices that exists in the administration, thus ensuring the safety and fair treatment of all people on the campus at NIC."

In its news story on coach Whitcomb being fired, the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review presented this capsule of just how successful the North Idaho wrestling program has been over the years (22 years with Whitcomb at the helm).

"Since 1972, NIC has dominated the junior college ranks. The Cardinals won 14 national titles as a team along with 54 national individual titles. They also have produced 235 All-Americans, all of which are National Junior College Athletic Association records."

Whitcomb has been a major figure on the North Idaho College campus as both a successful athlete and coach. He was a two-time NJCAA wrestling champ for the NIC Cardinals in the 1980s. Since Whitcomb was hired as head coach just over two decades ago, NIC could claim 18 individual national champions and 108 All-Americans. He was honored as National Coach of the Year twice and Region 18 Coach of the Year eight times.

Whitcomb is a member of the NJCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame and NIC Hall of Fame.

Founded in 1933, North Idaho College is a public, two-year community college located in Coeur d'Alene. It has a total enrollment of approximately 7,800 students.

UPDATE 1/27/19

On Sunday, the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a guest editorial from the North Idaho College Board of Trustees, addressing the allegations made by the school's former head wrestling coach, Pat Whitcomb. Here are excerpts from the NIC trustees:

"The North Idaho College Board of Trustees does not routinely respond to articles in the press but we understand our athletic programs are very important to our community, as they are to us. We wish to clarify policy, and dispel recent falsehoods made about the college and our athletic programs..."

"The board has a strong commitment to our student athletes, and we are proud of all of their accomplishments. At no time has there been any discussion of ending our championship wrestling program. Any such suggestion would need to come before the board of trustees. Last fall, in a public meeting, the board approved a community-wide study to determine the viability and interest in expanding our athletic offerings. In a survey offered to the public, two possible programs were specifically identified. The board has expressed interest in baseball and women's wrestling. The results of the study will be presented to the board this spring. There have been no suggestions brought to the board of current athletic programs being eliminated in order to bring on new athletic opportunities."

"NIC has a long history in this community of demonstrating strong support for human rights, civil rights, and dignity for all. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is a priority for the board and the administration. During its September 26, 2018, meeting, the board approved funds for a design concept for a new gymnasium, and over the course of the fall semester held public workshops that included discussions on the possible construction of a gymnasium. We anticipate many more public discussions on the viability of a new gymnasium, classrooms and athletic training space. It is important to the board to explore efforts to replace the current gymnasium that was built in 1949, and is not as ADA-compliant as we would like it to be."


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Hyhu28 (1) about 7 months ago
Just a gut feeling on this one, but something tells me that some folks at North Idaho College are going to be in big trouble before this is all said and done.
cradleman (1) about 7 months ago
You would think so. Baseball in Idaho is kind of a waste since they have limitations on weather. I love Baseball but cutting a wrestling program and replacing it with Baseball, doesn't make sense.