BELGRADE - After seven months, Mike Neubauer still doesn't know if he's out of a job.
A complaint filed in July by four parents of Belgrade players accused the head coach of the high school's softball program of bullying, intimidating, and harassing the players during the spring season. Specifics of the mistreatment have not been made public.
One of the parents involved in the complaint is a member of the Belgrade school board, which is responsible for renewing or ending Neubauer's employment.
A Monday night spring hiring board meeting was expected to finally give answers on whether or not the coach of 36 years is still employed by the district. Despite repeated attempts to clarify his job status with the administration, Neubauer has never officially been told whether or not he has been let go. Instead, Neubauer's case was deferred to a later date on Monday night while the district continues its search for a new coach.
In mid-December, an open position for head softball coach was posted on the school district's website. Neubauer said despite confusion over his standing with the school, he applied for the job. The posting has since been taken down. Multiple sources confirm that interviews for head softball coach have already taken place.
Neubauer adamantly denies all accusations of mistreating players. He claims the school board has not followed procedure in reporting the accusations, skipping several levels of policy to report the initial allegations directly to the superintendent's office.
"As a coach, I would've really liked to know if there was a problem going on," Neubauer explained last month."If they'd have followed chain of command or any procedure, we wouldn't be here today," he said, referring to the accusing parents and top school administrators involved in the case.
According to the Belgrade School District Coaches Athletic Handbook, "'harassment, intimidation, or bullying' means any act that substantially interferes with a student's educational benefits, opportunities, or performance...and that has the effect of... creating a hostile educational or athletic environment."
After reaching out to the administration multiple times, Superintendent Godfrey Saunders released the following statement to Montana Right Now: "Belgrade District has a legal obligation to protect the privacy rights of students and staff. Given that all parties involved in this particular matter have asserted their individual privacy rights, including Mr. Neubauer, the District will not be making any public comments relating to this matter."
Although an investigation conducted by Activities Director Rick Phillips recommended keeping Neubauer on as head coach, Saunders' own investigation did not recommend hiring or firing the coach. Neubauer's four assistant coaches have all expressed support for his return to the field.
On Monday night, a crowd of 40 or so community members crowded into the Belgrade School District's board room to support Neubauer. Four spoke in support on his behalf.
Ty Atwood, a star softball player who graduated from Belgrade last year, read a statement, reading in part: "We're here as we have been at every opportunity," she said, glancing up from the notes on her phone, "to show our continued and unwavering support for a coach that has been an inspiration to all of us with his 'We Not Me' philosophy, a coach who has raised the bar for each of his players individually and as a team, to achieve and grow on and off the field."
"What's taken place thus far is not correct. And we do need that healing in our community, and to lose some of our pride so that we're doing what's correct for the kids," said Rob Barnett, a community member, addressing the school board.
Alexia Deming, a former Belgrade softball player now studying at Montana State, addressed the emotional toll of the events on the players, saying: "What has been going on is probably the hardest thing to go on in my life. I've been fighting a battle that I feel like I've fought as hard as I can, and I'm losing. It's hard, because usually when I give something my best, I usually come out on top. But that's not working very well right now."
Continuing, Deming explained that she supported Neubauer continuing as coach. "To see my team divided like this is very difficult. The outcome that we are all here for is the only way that this team can come back together to become the team I knew and loved."
In his two years with the Belgrade Panthers, Neubauer led the team to consecutive state titles, and was voted "Coach of the Year" twice by peers across the state.
Prior to his time as head softball coach for the Panthers, Neubauer coached baseball and softball in Wolf Point, Bozeman, and in a traveling capacity in Belgrade.
It is unclear when Neubauer will be given a final answer on his future.