BRADENTON, Fla. - Dozens of parents and students are speaking out in support of Manatee High School's varsity baseball coach Dwayne Strong.
"In my opinion, there is no Manatee baseball without Coach Strong," Julie McKinzie, parent of a former Strong player, told the Manatee County School Board.
Strong was recently suspended from his coaching duties. He is currently under investigation by the District's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) for alleged financial improprieties and violations of the School Board's policies and procedures.
'It makes me sick to my stomach," said McKinzie. "Obviously the person, or people, that are doing this don't know Coach Strong at all."
McKinzie was speaking about the recent allegations that Strong has implemented a pay-to-play system that involves The Sandlot at 5-Tools, an indoor hitting facility he owns and operates on the side.
While the school district is not going into the specifics of the investigation because it's still ongoing, spokesman Steve Valley said the investigation started after OPS received information from a person affiliated with Manatee High School.
In an Oct. 3 memo to MHS Principal Don Sauer, the executive director of high school management directed Sauer to "suspend all interactions between Mr. Strong and the MHS baseball program" and "freeze all MHS baseball program funds and accounts." The memo referred to the "severity of the allegations and initial evidentiary findings" as the reason why.
At Monday night's school board meeting, dozens showed up to speak on Strong's behalf.
"It's just a disbelief to have these allegations brought forth on him and to ruin such a good person," said Ronald James.
Strong would not talk to ABC Action News about the investigation. But supporters, like McKinzie, say all of the allegations are false.
"He did not charge players. He never has charged the players to use the facility," she said.
"He's not about what's this going to benefit me. It is and it always has been about the boys."
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