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ETSU clears Skole of wrongdoing

Trey Williams • May 25, 2012 at 9:45 PM

East Tennessee State University has cleared baseball coach Tony Skole of any wrongdoing concerning a 6 a.m. workout on May 14.

The announcement came in a 2,500-word report submitted by ETSU attorney Ed Kelly on Friday afternoon.

According to the report, a series of emails began arriving from “John Hancock” and “Rusty Shackleford” about the workout on May 17. An investigation began on May 18 to determine if the workout was acceptable in terms of health and safety guidelines, and if the conduct was abusive to players.

A “Rusty Shackleford” — the report states Shackleford later acknowledging the name was an alias — also posted a video of the workout on YouTube, which showed players doing a number of exercises as well as pencil rolls and somersaults. At one point, the video was made private for a number of hours, later re-posted and has since been made private again.

The first part of the two-part video had received more than 1,500 viewings, and emotional commentary posted on the page — pro and con — had evidently begun to generate as many views as the hillbilly commentary that essentially characterized Skole as a profane tyrant.

“The May 14 event broke no rules and appropriate safeguards were in place to protect the participants at all times,” ETSU’s report concluded. “The activities do not appear to constitute player abuse, but were rather disciplinary actives resulting from either a less than satisfactory on field performance and/or the breaking of a team rule regarding curfew.”

Before knowing an outcome would be announced Friday, former ETSU player Josh Kite was eager to support Skole on Friday morning. Kite, a Chuckey-Doak alumnus, has been the athletic director three years at David Crockett after pitching six years in the minor leagues.

“Coach Skole was good to me,” Kite said. “I had a good experience with him. I played six years of pro ball and Coach Skole got me prepared for it. ...

“He was good to my family ... and always stays in touch. The respect he has for his former players is tremendous.”

Elizabethton alumnus Nathan Copeland played at Clemson before transferring to ETSU. He played minor-league ball after playing for the Buccaneers.

“Having played college baseball at Clemson prior to arriving at ETSU in 1997, I can tell you that most programs have tough conditioning routines and players are held accountable for their actions on and off the field,” Copeland wrote in an email to the Johnson City Press. “Coach Skole has worked tirelessly over the last decade to rebuild a program that was, quite frankly, not in the best shape before his arrival. Given little to work with from facilities to finances, he has built a program at ETSU that is now respected and a program that is relevant in college baseball.

“From the day he stepped foot on campus, he has instilled pride in his program and his players, demanding attention to detail and respect for family, teammates, community and our great university. He brought a sense of pride to a program that had lacked it for so long.”

Science Hill alumnus Ryan McKinney played for Skole and his ETSU predecessor, fellow Hilltoppers graduate Ken Campbell. McKinney also sent a supportive email to the Johnson City Press.

“When Coach Skole came to ETSU the summer before my junior year (1999), he inherited a program with little to work with, but it was Tony’s positive attitude, passion, and competitive fire that lead (sic) him to turn the program around, create a sense of pride on campus and in the community, and change the lives of so many young men in the process,” McKinney wrote. “Playing for Coach Skole those first two years was hard at times. We re-learned the fundamentals of the game, learned what it meant to commit to a Division 1 baseball program, and learned a lot about ourselves in the process. ... The bottom line is that Coach Skole prepared me to be successful in life. His mantra of ‘pay attention to detail’ resonates in my mind whether I am preparing a presentation in an office or just mowing the lawn. I am proud to be an alumnus of this fine university.”

Bo Calloway also played for Ken Campbell (at Walters State) and played for Skole at ETSU. He said he didn’t have a problem with the conditioning, but took exception to Skole’s mental treatment of players, and said he thinks said behavior has had a direct effect on his 13-year record at ETSU (330-390 overall, 161-218 conference).

“His record speaks for itself,” Calloway said. “I played for Ken Campbell, too. Ken Campbell has been successful at various levels, and treated players with respect and dignity. Tony Skole is not a coach so much as a bully.”

Rainey Rissman, the father of former ETSU player Dak Rissman, took issue with what he heard was profane treatment of his son. Rissman was also concerned about the conditioning in an emailed copy of a letter he said was sent to Skole, athletic director Dave Mullins and then-president Paul Stanton in September of last year.

“The baseball training program is a tragedy waiting to happen,” the letter begins. “How does running players until they vomit and then force them to run hours more help them play better? Why are excessive workouts (when only eight countable hours are allowed by NCAA your priority? This is baseball, not Seal Team Six training! ...

“I was not at your September 11 team meeting, but I’m stunned by your unprovoked tirade against Dak. ‘Setting an Example’ by condescension and embarrassment, or a ‘My way or the Highway’ rant should be an embarrassment to ETSU. If your berating was anywhere close to several reports, then it was time for Dak to leave the team and you don’t deserve his skills. How would you feel if your son was screamed at: “Get the f--- out of here; I never want to see your f---ing face again.”

Indeed, Skole’s mental treatment of players has stirred far more discussion during his 13-year career at ETSU than his conditioning workouts. And such discussion has been more prevalent than ever this season, one in which ETSU is playing in the still-under-construction Thomas Stadium.

The Bucs finished 8-19 in the Atlantic Sun Conference and 23-32 overall. It was also the first season with assistant coaches Kyle Bunn and Xan Barksdale, who replaced Reid Casey and Clay Greene.

Kite said he couldn’t speak for this season, but that he parlayed stringent guidelines into a six-year pro career. Kite said he wasn’t performing the way he was capable as a sophomore, and was consequently left home when ETSU played at Middle Tennessee.

Kite described the discipline as the definitive, pivotal moment in his career.

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