Frank Sumbera is pictured with one of his former Grosse Pointe North football players. Sumbera coached at North for more than 40 years.

Frank Sumbera is pictured with one of his former Grosse Pointe North football players. Sumbera coached at North for more than 40 years.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Sumbera disputes account that he retired

By: Mark Vest | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 10, 2018


GROSSE POINTES — Frank Sumbera is not currently employed as Grosse Pointe North’s baseball and football coach.

There’s no disputing that.

According to administrators from the school district, Sumbera retired.

However, Sumbera said he was terminated.

What is known is that a meeting took place between Sumbera and administrators June 27.

Sumbera said the three other people in the room with him were North Principal Kate Murray, Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Michelle Davis and Director of Human Resources Nicole Pilgrim.

“As we sat down, she (Pilgrim) said that they were basically going to terminate my coaching as of (3 p.m.) that day on Wednesday, and I wouldn’t be able to coach baseball and football at Grosse Pointe North anymore,” Sumbera said. “And then I basically asked for reasons, and they said they had some parental letters. … They’re saying that I was mentally abusing my players through some comments, and I was putting them in danger. I said basically, ‘What? What are you talking about? I don’t understand.’”

Gary Niehaus, who is the superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, has a different version of what transpired at the meeting.

“Frank voluntarily verbally made his retirement announcement to the three administrators that were reviewing his investigation results with him,” Niehaus said. “He was asked to submit in writing by (3 p.m.), and he did not do so. And so we then sent our message out to the parents at 4:30.”

In an email addressed to baseball and football parents and players dated June 27, Murray wrote, “Today, we received notice of the retirement of Grosse Pointe North High School head baseball and head football coach Frank Sumbera, effective June 29, 2018. … Frank Sumbera has been head of our varsity baseball and football programs for nearly 50 years. His dedication to the Grosse Pointe North High School student-athletes, assistant coaches and community will long be his legacy. We want to thank Frank for his years of service and wish him the best in his retirement.”

When asked if he could talk about the conclusion of the investigation, Niehaus said, “No. That’s part of the disciplinary action that was taken.”

After learning of the “parental letters,” Sumbera said he asked, “‘Well, who did you talk to on (the) positive end?’”

When asked if he spoke with anybody who did not agree with the allegations, Niehaus said, “Minimal, but I’m not (going to) say how many. I don’t think it’s part of the story.”

As to how many letters there were with allegations against Sumbera, Niehaus said, “We’re not going there.”

Based on an email sent out by the parent of one of Sumbera’s former players, at least one allegation is known.

In an email obtained by C & G Newspapers, a parent wrote that, “Frank disrespects the boys by mentally and verbally abusing the boys.”

Neither Murray nor Davis responded to messages offering opportunities to provide comments, although according to an email, Davis was out of the office until July 10, after press time.

Sam Cross graduated from North in 2017 and played for Sumbera on the baseball team.

In regard to noticing or hearing any mental or verbal abuse from Sumbera, Cross said, “There was nothing like that.”

“He was a great coach,” Cross said. “He definitely made the high school experience very, very enjoyable for me.”

Sheldon Cage graduated from North this year, and he played for Sumbera on the football team.

Although Cage said Sumbera expected a lot, he said he didn’t notice “anything that was crazy or bad” regarding verbal or mental abuse from his former coach.

One person who can offer a unique perspective is Grosse Pointe South baseball coach Dan Griesbaum. Prior to taking over South’s program in 1984, Griesbaum served as Sumbera’s assistant at North from 1980 to 1983.

Griesbaum said he didn’t see anything that was “abusive in any way” when he was Sumbera’s assistant.

In the years since, Griesbaum said he hasn’t seen anything “objectionable” either.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like that,” Griesbaum said. “I don’t know if there’s something else that I’m not aware of or whatever, but I’ve never witnessed anything in all that time that I would consider anything objectionable — verbal, physical, emotional, whatever. I’ve never witnessed any of that.”

Supporters of Sumbera have signed a petition on titled “Grosse Pointe North administrators: Get Frank Sumbera back as coach.”

From Niehaus’ perspective, that is not a likely scenario.

“Now we’re past that,” Niehaus said. “He resigned his position. That’s all I needed for us to move forward. And we got the posting out for a head football coach and a head baseball coach currently.”

Sumbera would have preferred a different method for handling the investigative process.

“I (don’t) see why they wouldn’t just say we have people inquiring about this, you should come in and talk about it,” Sumbera said. “In the first or second sentence of the whole thing, they tell me I’m terminated at (3 p.m.). Instead of saying there’s a problem, maybe we should review this or set up some kind of little plan that’s not going to upset anybody and so forth. … I don’t feel it was handled correctly. … I felt like I was getting bullied.”

Sumbera began his tenure as North’s head baseball coach in the 1970s, before also taking over the football program in 1981.

He is third on the Michigan High School Athletic Association victories list for baseball coaches with 1,097. He also has over 200 wins as a football coach.

As for what might be next for the Hall of Famer, Sumbera still has some thinking to do.

“I’m just waiting to see how this thing turns out,” he said. “It’s not over. … This is the only job I’ve ever interviewed for. I’ve been there for five decades. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”