Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club parts ways with coach Holm Schmidt

Athlete Kyle Field talks with GHCKRT high-performance coach Holm Schmidt during 2015 nationals in San Diego. Schmidt recently parted ways with the club.
Athlete Kyle Field talks with GHCKRT high-performance coach Holm Schmidt during 2015 nationals in San Diego. Schmidt recently parted ways with the club. Courtesy

The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club parted ways with head coach Holm Schmidt in December 2016, The Gateway has learned.

The club hired Schmidt in 2012 as the team’s high-performance racing coach. Schmidt took over as the team’s full-time head coach following the retirement of the club’s founder, Alan Anderson, in early 2016.

For now, Anderson has stepped back in as the team’s head coach.

As of now, those involved are remaining tight-lipped on all the details surrounding why Schmidt was let go.

“I would call it a difference of opinion on the direction of the team,” Anderson said. “Holm was given a chance to be the high-performance coach for the older kids. He turned it down. He had issues with the board. It was a difficult time.”

According to GHCKRT’s board of directors secretary Kirsten Gregory, Schmidt resigned on his own.

“We had some personnel issues we needed to work out,” Gregory said. “I can’t comment beyond that. The end result is that we had the opportunity to ask Alan to come back. We are thrilled that he accepted that invitation to return. Alan coached us to four national championships.”

But according to Schmidt, he didn’t resign. He claims he was terminated without cause, which is backed up by a termination letter The Gateway obtained and verified.

“I had no other choice,” Schmidt said. “I did not resign.”

Schmidt also declined to go into details about what prompted the decision from the club.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “It’s not a nice thing to talk about. It’s not what I wanted. I didn’t come here to leave. It’s a sad situation.”

But the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club doesn’t deny that Schmidt’s contract was terminated. The reason, according to Gregory, was to ensure that Schmidt received his severance pay and could apply for unemployment benefits. The club maintains the stance that Schmidt quit before receiving his formal termination letter.

Coming to a resolution, he decided to resign. In order to be able to give him his severance, which we thought we would be just and fair, we terminated that contract, paid him his severance that would be owed.

Kirsten Gregory, GHCKRT board of directors secretary

“We were working through a number of personnel issues,” Gregory said. “Coming to a resolution, he decided to resign. In order to be able to give him his severance, which we thought we would be just and fair, we terminated that contract, paid him his severance that would be owed. It’s a technical, contractual obligation. We’ve tried to be very fair and generous in ending this relationship with him.”

Regardless of the murky situation, both parties insist they bear no ill-will moving forward. Schmidt took more than 10 paddlers with him from the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak club and is forming his own team, which currently launches out of Raft Island, opposite the harbor. The club will be called Keystone Paddlers, and is in the process of obtaining an official logo and setting up a Facebook page.

Schmidt insists that he holds no bitter feelings toward his old club.

“Sometimes, the team doesn’t fit,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also said he’s not concerned about the presence of competing clubs in the same community.

We have too few teams. Look at the amount of soccer teams and baseball teams that we have in the area. For instance, in my hometown, we had seven or eight kayak teams. There’s a huge demand here right now and so many kids here.

Holm Schmidt, Keystone Paddlers coach

“We have too few teams,” Schmidt said. “Look at the amount of soccer teams and baseball teams that we have in the area. For instance, in my hometown, we had seven or eight kayak teams. There’s a huge demand here right now and so many kids here. We could easily support six or seven teams.”

Schmidt said the plan is to roll out the team, slowly at first.

“I don’t want to look like a competing bully,” he said. “It’s going to come at its own pace. We need to find a permanent home now. It’s not an angry breakup. The kids who followed me followed because of their belief in my racing philosophy. It’s all there is to say. It’s not an angry split. It’s part of humanity.”

As for the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club, Anderson is back at the helm. Only now, he has some more help.

“I wanted to come back and help if I had some more help this time,” Anderson said.

In addition to Anderson, the club has five other coaches, as well. They are: Scott Puckett, an assistant coach focusing on National Group, kayak, video and technology, communications and coaching administration; Aaron Huston, an assistant coach focusing on strength and conditioning, communications and coaching administration; Jonathan Sousley, an assistant coach focusing on canoe and video review; Rylee Price, an assistant coach focusing on National and Development Groups, and Andrew Field, an assistant coach focusing on canoe.

“That was one of Holm’s deficiencies: He didn’t want any help. He wanted to do it all by himself,” Anderson said. “I have a great coaching staff now and I have the opportunity to share how I built this team.”

Anderson wants to emphasize a family atmosphere and youth development.

“We’re working for team growth, not individual growth,” Anderson said. “It’s more of a family dynamic that I’m trying to bring back. … Our goal is to rebuild the foundation. We’re looking for young athletes — 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds. I’d like the community, team and parents to be excited about it.”

The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club will finally have a permanent home soon. The Ancich Park site is slated for a ribbon-cutting opening in July 2018, according to Anderson. The club is also working on bringing nationals to the area, most like at Seattle’s Greenlake, in 2018.

As for Anderson, he expects to stick around at least through the 2018 nationals.

“After that, we’ll see,” Anderson said. “I’m here to make sure the transition is smooth. How long I stay remains to be seen. I spent 15 years trying to find a home for this team in Gig Harbor. I just want to make sure it’s a strong, healthy team that moves into this home.”

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