Coach accused of drinking beer around students

Former players rally to Jeff Swymer's defense

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. - When Corey Gray heard that his former baseball coach had stepped down from the Wiregrass Ranch High School baseball team, he was nearly speechless.

"My whole heart just dropped.  It just wasn't a good thing to know," said Gray, who just graduated from Wiregrass Ranch in June.  He credited Jeff Swymer with providing support for his players both on and off the field.

"I started tearing up a little bit because it got me devastated.  He just helped me out so much in the last four years," Gray said.

Swymer resigned as coach after he was told he could be suspended for a year because he drank beer in front of the players during a tournament in Ft. Lauderdale  in March.  It's against school district policy for teachers or coaches to consume alcohol around students.

"There was an anonymous email to the school telling them that he had been consuming alcohol while students were present," said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the Pasco County school district.  The incident happened at a bowling alley when Swymer was acting as a chaperone.

"It's terribly unfortunate.  Everyone involved in sick about it," Cobbe said.

Most disappointed are many of the players and former students who played for Swymer while he was coach.  Swymer led the team to its first ever regional final, and accumulated a 76-33 record during the last four years.

"He breathes Wiregrass baseball.  He loves his job more than anyone you'll find," said Chris Kluender, and former player.

"It's just hard to go under something that's an anonymous letter like that.  It's something that shouldn't be believed," Kluender said.

Other players said they were upset that the accuser never came forward.  Swymer said in a written statement that he appreciated the support, and was grateful for the efforts of his players.

Still, many hope Swymer changes his mind for the sake of the younger players he's leaving behind.

"They're going to miss him if he doesn't come back," Kluender said.

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