Jeff Reifman is no longer in the Timberline High dugout. But his name was all over the Wolves’ baseball field Thursday.
Nine Timberline players wore the name of the embattled coach on their jerseys throughout the school day. They scrawled his initials under the brims of their hats and on their wristbands. And on the front wall of the dugout, they wrote “We play for …,” hung Reifman’s name nine times and signed their jersey numbers.
“It got our message across,” senior Matt Stefanic said. “We all support Reif.”
The Boise School District placed Timberline’s second-year baseball coach on paid administrative leave from Timberline and the Wolves’ baseball team April 4 as it began an investigation. District athletic director Jon Ruzicka declined to reveal what the district investigated, saying it’s a personnel matter. Reifman has also declined to provide details on the investigation, but he said it didn’t involve any physical or sexual abuse of a student nor anything that would put his teaching job or certificate in jeopardy.
He remains a physical education teacher at Fairmont Junior High and said the district’s investigation didn’t find any wrongdoing. He resigned as Timberline’s head baseball coach Monday but told the Statesman on Wednesday, “... if it were truly up to me, I would have been back immediately with the guys I love and care about.”
Multiple Timberline players said the school district still has not provided them any reason why Reifman can’t coach the team and that they only learned about Reifman’s resignation through the Idaho Statesman.
“We didn’t get any word of it from our coaches, the district, our administrators. Nothing,” senior Dylan Herberg said. “... If the district won’t even tell us they’re doing something with our head coach, maybe that’s something else to be looked into by us.”
Reifman’s resignation sparked a desire to protest the district’s investigation and show the team’s support for its former coach. During a group chat Wednesday night, nine of the team’s 16 players agreed to wear Reifman’s name written in masking tape on the back of their jerseys to school and during senior night.
But before Thursday’s game against Borah, seniors Jake Randall, Thomas Vizgirdas and Alex McFarland-Smith said, interim coach Kirk Copeland informed the team they couldn’t wear Reifman’s name during the game.
“He said it came from someone higher than him. His words,” Vizgirdas said.
The team’s seven seniors instead huddled and decided to hang Reifman’s name on the front wall of the dugout for everyone to see. Copeland said they came up with that decision on their own.
“It’s how we can relay to the district that we all know that whatever is happening isn’t what should be happening,” senior Jake Randall said. “We know how good of a guy he is, how much he loves us, how much we love him. It’s support for him knowing he’s going through a tough time right now, and it’s also a protest trying to tell them that we think they’re wrong.”
Ruzicka said the Boise School District didn’t tell the team it couldn’t wear Reifman’s name on its jersey. Timberline Athletic Director Tol Gropp declined to comment when asked if the school’s administration told the Wolves that. But he said Copeland informed the team they could wear it at one point. He declined to say when.
“I think ultimately we said it would have been a distraction,” Gropp said. “We’d rather they not, but they certainly can if they’d like to.”
Vizgirdas took exception to calling the protest a distraction.
“That’s kind of the reason we did it — to make a distraction,” Vizgirdas. “We want people to see what we’re doing.”
The senior night protest is the latest bump in a tumultuous season for Timberline. After going 21-8 and finishing second at the 5A state tournament in Reifman’s first season, the Wolves returned eight starters this spring and were picked second in a 5A SIC preseason coaches’ poll.
But they got off to a 5-6 start before Reifman’s suspension, and pitching coach Caleb Mintz resigned April 16 in protest of the district investigation. Mintz said he’d return if the school district exonerated Reifman, and he added the school district never interviewed him as part of its investigation.
“It was hard to take, especially since I’ve known him really well for the last two years,” Mintz said. “I’ve been with him every day. He’s never done or said anything that would warrant anything that’s going on.”
Several players echoed Mintz’ statement, saying they’ve never seen Reifman do anything that warrants an investigation.
“I support him 100 percent and I’d run through a wall for him,” Stefanic said. “In my eyes, he didn’t do anything wrong coaching-wise.”
Timberline lost a pair of games to SIC leader Rocky Mountain after Reifman’s suspension but has rebounded to win seven out of nine games since then, including a 14-13 win over Borah on Thursday. The Wolves (12-10, 8-7) close the regular season Monday at Nampa.
McFarland-Smith said the team has tried to rally together despite all the controversy off the field.
“We’re playing for Reif,” McFarland-Smith said. “We don’t want to fold. We’re not the best team right now, but I think we have a chance of winning (a state championship) or making a run like we did last year.”