Tom Hirschman, already on paid administrative leave as Albuquerque Public Schools investigated “allegations of inappropriate conduct and comments,” resigned as Eldorado’s girls soccer coach Monday.
Hirschman told the Journal he violated APS athletic policy regarding religion and prayer. In essence, he said, for “blending church and state.”
He will continue as a special education teacher at Eldorado.
His resignation comes just three days before the Eagles, the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A state tournament, are to play their quarterfinal game against Sandia.
“I’m grateful my administration gave me the opportunity to step down before being fired,” Hirschman said.
Hirschman said there were two incidents at the heart of the investigation.
First, a team prayer that Hirschman said he initiated during a game against Clovis on Sept. 15, after a Wildcats’ player was seriously injured at the APS Complex.
The APS athletic handbook that covers prayer includes the following amendment:
“No school employee, representative or coach of an APS team should initiate, encourage, lead, promote or participate in prayer with students. Although each employee or representative has the right (to) exercise religion, the leadership role of a coach may place pressure on students to participate.”
The second issue, Hirschman said, was that he showed two religion-themed movies last year, “Soul Surfer” and “Forever Strong,” without getting prior administrative approval. Hirschman described the movies as a team-building activity with a “positive Christian message.”
“At the end of the day, I owned up to what they said I did and what was against policy,” Hirschman said.
“For me, it was an easy decision to step down,” Hirschman added. “I think I’m a coach of integrity. We stress life skills through soccer.”
The alternative, Hirschman said, was that he would be fired.
“It was made clear,” he said.
Eldorado at one point was ranked No. 1 in Class 5A this season, and was also nationally ranked.
Hirschman was put on leave Oct. 26 by APS. There was an allegation of misconduct brought by multiple Eldorado girls soccer players on Oct. 25, APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said. She said she did not know if all the players were members of Eldorado’s varsity squad.
“The allegations were not criminal, or sexual, in nature,” Armenta said.
“I guess the students felt I was pushing religion and Jesus down their throat,” Hirschman said.
Armenta said she could not confirm that religion was the basis for the investigation, citing it as a personnel matter. The investigation concluded on Friday, she said.
Hirschman said he resigned Monday morning at a meeting with Eldorado principal Martin Sandoval.
A letter, written by Sandoval, was sent home Monday afternoon with the members of the girls varsity squad, EHS athletic director Mike Huston said.
In part, it read:
“Upon the conclusion of the investigation, Mr. Hirschman chose to tender his resignation as the head girls soccer coach. The resignation is effective immediately. Interim coach Paul Maestas will coach the team for the remainder of the season.”
Sandoval’s letter contained the phrase “allegations of inappropriate conduct and comments.”
Sandoval did not return a phone call seeking comment. His letter stated that Hirschman “will return to the classroom next week.”
Hirschman was in his ninth season as Eldorado’s head coach. He led the Eagles to a state championship in 2009.
“I hope I am handling this gracefully, and in a manner that teaches kids that actions speak louder than words,” Hirschman said. “At the same time, I recognize that I broke policy, and there are consequences. It was abundantly clear that I rubbed some kids and parents the wrong way. I get it. I blew it. I pushed my Christianity too far on athletes. There’s no doubt about it.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal