Miller resigns as Middleton's wrestling coach

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Former Middleton wrestling coach Joe Miller resigned from that position last week./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Joe Miller said he felt like he hit the lottery when he was named Middleton High School’s boys and girls wrestling coach in the summer of 2021.

Due to a string of self-inflicted wounds, though, and the inability to find middle ground with the school district, Miller’s time is over.

Miller was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest on Sept. 23 following an incident outside of Silk Exotic Gentleman’s Club in the Town of Middleton. Those charges were later dropped when Miller reached a plea deal agreement in which he pled guilty to an outstanding Operating While Intoxicated charge.

Miller said he was told by the district that if he settled his September incident, he could keep his position as Middleton’s wrestling coach — a claim the district disputes.

Miller met with district Assistant Superintendent Jerrud Rossing and director of Employee Services Barb Buffington on Nov. 29 and was given the option of resigning or being fired. Miller chose to resign.

“I’m crushed,” said Miller, who’s also had a large role in Middleton’s youth wrestling program since 2008. “I’m not saying I’m blameless. I think I paid the price through the law and with the wrestling community and my family.

“But what’s frustrating is I was given a set of instructions to follow. I made a mistake and how can you fix that mistake? The school district said I was suspended pending my legal matters. I remedied that situation and got that fixed.

“I thought the school district would honor their end of the bargain and tell me that my suspension was lifted. At no point did I think I’d be fired at the end of this. I can honestly say that I’m embarrassed to tell people I’m a Middleton alumni.”

Miller has been employed in some capacity by the Middleton Cross-Plains School District since 2010. The district conducted its own investigation into Miller’s situation.

“The situation is difficult for everyone involved,” MCPASD Superintendent Dana Monogue said. “We always have to make sure that when it comes to the adults that we’re putting in front of our children that we’re keeping high moral and ethical standards at the forefront all of the time.”

A 20-page incident report filed by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office indicates that Miller and Middleton resident Jason Suttle allegedly caused a disruption at a Town of Middleton strip club on Sept. 23. When Miller was taken into custody that night, he was booked on Disorderly Conduct and Resisting, but those charges were later dropped.

County deputies — along with members of the Middleton Police Department — were initially dispatched to Silk Exotic Gentleman’s Club at 7302 Highway 14 for a report of “two males [one of whom was Miller] creating a large disturbance outside the … establishment.”

“Prior to deputies’ arrival, the offenders had been pepper sprayed by armed security due to trying to gain unhallowed access into the establishment,” deputies reported. “Both offenders were extremely intoxicated and resisted arrest upon deputy arrival. Both offenders [were] booked into the Dane County Jail without issue.”

In their report, authorities said Miller made “made an aggressive movement” toward a deputy and directed an anti-gay slur at a member of the club’s security staff.

One of the deputies arriving on the scene said they observed multiple officers on top of Miller, who “appeared to be physically resisting deputies’ efforts to stabilize him on the ground.”

According to another deputy, Miller was previously observed yelling at one of Silk’s security guards and “buck[ed] his chest out and leaned forward” towards the security officer. When the deputy told Miller to stop, he allegedly “did the exact same thing” toward the sheriff’s deputy, which is when law enforcement attempted to put Miller’s hands behind his back and stabilize him.

According to one of the deputies, “[a]s I began to speak with [Miller] as he was in a standing position, I observed [his] speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and glossy and he had a strong odor of intoxicants coming from his breath. Joseph then asked me why he had been placed in handcuffs. I stated to Joseph that with his disturbing behavior tonight towards the two victims as well as getting into [a deputy’s] face, he was going to be placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting.”

Miller told authorities he had done nothing wrong. Deputies told Miller, who was wearing blue shorts and an orange shirt with dinosaurs on it, that he had not been allowed into the club because his outfit did not adhere to their dress code. Miller allegedly responded by calling one of the arresting deputies “a _____ loser and a tough guy.”

On Sept. 27, Buffington informed Miller via email that he was being placed on unpaid, non-disciplinary leave.

Buffington’s email also said: “Unless otherwise directed by me or an administrator, you are not to report to work or perform any other responsibilities of your position as the Varsity Wrestling Coach. Furthermore, you are prohibited from being on any property of or in any buildings in the District without permission. Finally, you are hereby directed not to attend any of the activities sponsored by the District without permission.”

Miller received another email from Buffington on Oct. 12 that read: “We are not comfortable with you continuing your role as a head varsity wrestling coach at this time given the substantial relationship between your job duties and the pending legal matters.  Therefore, you will remain on unpaid administrative leave until these legal matters are resolved. We will be hiring an interim coach in the meantime.”

Former Middleton wrestler Kevin Meicher was then named Middleton’s interim coach, and just three days before the Cardinals’ first meet of the season, Miller resigned.

“Difficult decisions sometimes have to be made,” Monogue said. “And we know that they’re emotional and they’re trying when it comes to sticky or difficult or challenging personnel issues.”

Miller, who graduated from MHS in 1993, had a decorated wrestling career at Middleton and has stayed heavily involved in the sport ever since.

Miller qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament in 1992, where he reached the Round of 8 at 103 pounds. During his senior year in 1993, Miller again reached the Round of 8 at state, this time at 119 pounds.

Miller was part of the first two teams in Middleton history that earned trips to the state team wrestling tournament. Miller later received a wrestling scholarship to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

In 2008, Miller took over the middle school wrestling program at Glacier Creek. The following year, he started up the Middleton Area Wrestling Club, which has grown to nearly 100 kids.

So, when he was hired as the wrestling coach at MHS, it was like a dream come true, he said.

“Growing up, I had nothing but positive memories, nothing but positive things to say,” Miller said. “I respected what this high school gave me, and I wanted to give these kids the same lessons, but they took that away from me.

“What’s so frustrating is I’ve coached a lot of these kids since they were five years old. Very few people take these jobs for money. It’s for the love of the game, and why I did it at the start.

“Wrestling’s a unique sport. You’re with them from their first day on the mat through high school. You have a connection with parents and athletes for more than decade. That’s what hurts the most. I can’t be there for the kids.”

Miller is not the first coach to leave Middleton athletics recently.

Football coach Jason Pertzborn resigned on Jan. 26 amidst a bullying scandal. Dave Miller, an assistant wrestling coach, was fired in February after a disagreement with athletic director Jamie Sims that stemmed from Miller hugging his own granddaughter.

And boys tennis coach Henry Johnson was fired on May 22 after benching a player and angering what Johnson called, “the wrong parent.”

Monogue said the past year has been remarkably difficult for everyone inside the district.

“We have a really large school and a really large athletic department,” Monogue said. “There are a lot of adults involved. There are a lot of coaches involved.

“Do I think it’s been relatively challenging over the last 18 months, or so? Absolutely. It definitely has. I also know that the decisions that have been made when it comes to coaching changes have been made with the best interests of the students at heart and in mind. But yes, it’s been challenging. There’s no doubt about it.”

 

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