FORT WASHINGTON Supporters of Germantown Academy swim coach Dick Shoulberg are guardedly celebrating his pending return to the pool deck.
Shoulberg, 74, the legendary head coach who has been on leave for nine weeks, came to an agreement with the school administration to return as coach emeritus, help select a permanent replacement, and retire after the 2014-15 school year. But he will not be involved in day-to-day operations, according to a letter Monday from the head of the school, Jim Connor.
On online forums and a Facebook page petitioning for Shoulberg's reinstatement, friends, parents, and former students rejoiced that their campaign was successful. But they questioned the secrecy behind the process and Shoulberg's diminished role with the team.
"We can all read between the lines of Mr. Connor's letter and be frustrated at what is not being said," wrote Karen Laberge, who under Shoulberg's coaching made the Olympic team in 1980.
But Laberge said all that matters is that "Dick gets to retire more on his terms, set the program up as best as possible for his successor, and allow us all time to plan the biggest, most spectacular retirement party."
Connor, in his letter, stated that Shoulberg took a leave of absence "to address health concerns." But in a Dec. 4 interview, Shoulberg said that he wasn't ill and that his leave was all up to Connor.
Sources who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue said the coach was placed on administrative leave after an altercation between two swimmers in September.
Karen Linhart, a spokeswoman for USA Swimming, said the organization is looking into the Germantown Academy Aquatic Club to determine whether any individual members violated their code of conduct, which includes a detailed anti-bullying clause.
USA Swimming is the governing body that sanctions and oversees aquatic clubs nationwide, some of which are independent and others which are club-school hybrids, such as Germantown Academy's.
Shoulberg is a prominent member of USA Swimming, having coached several U.S. teams for international meets. In 2003, he was tapped to cochair a task force that developed a no-tolerance policy for sexual molestation.
While no one disputes the coach's effectiveness in sculpting world-class swimmers, some former parents and others have criticized his tough style.
After 44 years at the Fort Washington school, some said he had developed a "God complex" and refused to answer to superiors, such as the athletic director and head of school.
One parent, who did not wish to be named due to the nature of the comments, said Shoulberg would force faster swimmers to swim on top of the slower ones instead of going around them. Another said Shoulberg would not allow students out of the pool to go to the bathroom, instead encouraging them all to urinate freely during practice.
Shoulberg's supporters have said that urinating in the pool is standard practice and that his critics are being overprotective.
Shoulberg has not responded to numerous interview requests. Connor also declined to comment.
According to Connor's letter, Shoulberg will return to the pool deck after winter break. And on Facebook, friends confirmed that the coach would attend GA's annual alumni brunch around Christmas.
Meanwhile, the squad's seniors are being recruited by major universities. Natalie Dowzicky has committed to the University of Richmond, and Emily Erwin is going to Rutgers University. The boys' team has no seniors.