In a shocking development, Ken Hamburger has been dismissed as Haddon Heights High's girls' basketball coach - despite leading the Garnets to a 27-3 record and their first NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 championship last season.
Heights won the title even though its star player, Meredith Kennedy, suffered a torn knee ligament late in the season and made only a token appearance in the NJSIAA tournament.
"They don't want people who make waves, and I guess I make waves," Hamburger said yesterday.
"He did a great job and it's just time for him to move on to a new challenge. I know he was looking at some other positions," Heights athletic director Joe Cramp said. "It's just time for us to move in a different direction."
In a meeting with Cramp on Thursday, Hamburger said the athletic director told him, " 'I heard you're looking elsewhere.' I told him I get asked [to coach elsewhere] every year. I'm courted every year. . . . I said to him, 'You're an AD and if someone offers you a lot more money, wouldn't you look at it?'
"I told him I planned to come back, but that I was listening" to coaching inquiries.
Cramp said yesterday that he had gotten "the impression that he wanted to go somewhere else." He didn't want to elaborate on the reasons for the firing, other than to say that Hamburger's exploring other coaching positions had "a little" effect on the decision.
Before Hamburger became the head coach 10 years ago, Heights had a moribund program.
Hamburger, 41, built Heights into a powerhouse. The Garnets won 20 or more games in five of the last six seasons; they were 131-31 in those six campaigns.
"I'm someone who has questioned authority over the years," said Hamburger, a part-time art teacher at a Woodlynne elementary school, "and I'm someone who has taught the kids to stand up for themselves. For years, if something wasn't right, I didn't sit idly by. If money has been appropriated for the girls' basketball program and isn't spent, I'll say something. If a girl tears her ACL because there's no wax on the floor, I'm going to say something. I had to fight for everything there."
Cramp said the floor issue "was never brought to my attention" by Hamburger or any of the parents.
Hamburger, a 1983 Heights graduate, said he raised money for lights and a scoreboard in the school's gym, along with funds for a court and lights at an Atlantic Avenue facility.
He said he hoped to remain in coaching.
"I'm proud of where I've come from. I used to be emotional and animated when I was young and first started coaching," he said. "Now I coach more with intellect."
Added Hamburger, who served as a boys' basketball assistant at Sterling for seven years before becoming the head girls' coach at Heights: "I love the game and love the interaction with the kids. I definitely want to stay in coaching."