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Grinnell College softball program’s future in question after assistant coach fired


2021 Iowa College Media Association award winner, Third Place – Best Print/Online Sports Reporting

Grinnell College’s softball team is in danger of losing a critical number of players after the athletic department fired Assistant Coach Ben Suchon this past summer. Neither Suchon nor the players have received a consistent explanation as to why.

The situation has prompted multiple first- and second-year players, who were recruited by Suchon, to consider transferring, leaving the team with a severely depleted roster.

“If Coach Suchon goes, we have to be asking ourselves if the softball program is in jeopardy,” said Bruce Vermeulen, father of Elizabeth and Kathryn Vermeulen, both class of 2024 and softball team members.


A Revamped Program

Former assistant coach Ben Suchon was fired over the summer. Photo contributed by Ted Schultz.

Grinnell softball has seen defeat its entire history, consistently reaching the bottom of conference rankings. In the 40 years of the softball team’s existence prior to the 2018-19 season, no coach had ever had an overall winning conference record. The previous coach Amanda Reckamp obtained a conference record of 33-83, a 28.45 percent win-percentage, a record consistent with the team’s overall record in conference, standing at 137-346, a 28.3 percent win-percentage since 1978.

Head Coach Lynn Anderson and Coach Suchon were hired in the summer of 2018 with the job of revamping Grinnell’s small softball program, which amounted to 10 players at the time, including injured players. Other teams, such as Lake Forest College and Cornell College, boasted rosters of 20 players around the same time.

Lynn Anderson remains the current Grinnell College softball head coach. Photo contributed by Ted Schultz.

In 2019, Anderson and Suchon coached the team to their best conference record in program history, ending at 13-5. Further, Anderson and Suchon’s 2024 recruiting class committed 10 additional players, doubling the size of the team. For comparison, coach Amanda Reckamp added only two players to the roster in 2017.

Suchon was a large factor in this recruiting increase. A Plover, Wis. native, Suchon has a long history of softball and baseball experience. He is the founder of Prospect 101, a fall league for high school baseball and softball players, and he has worked for programs such as the Hitters Baseball Academy and the Brewers Baseball Club. Most notably, Suchon worked as an associate scout for the Chicago White Sox, a Major League Baseball (MLB) team.

Yet, despite such a successful recruiting year, Vice President of Human Resources at Grinnell College Mary Griener called Suchon on July 10 and informed him that his contract as the assistant coach of the softball program would not be renewed.


New recruits left in the dark

Why Suchon was not given a contract renewal remains uncertain, and softball families still have not received an explanation as to why he will not continue as Anderson’s assistant. Grinnell College Athletics Director Andy Hamilton told The S&B that this “is a personnel issue on which no comment can be made.”

Parents and players of Grinnell’s softball program began expressing worry regarding the team’s future following Suchon’s release. Suchon’s termination could result in a mass-transfer of new recruits who feel they have lost the same team and coaching staff that they signed up for. As of publication, five team members from the first- and second-year classes have told The S&B they are seriously considering transferring schools due to the College’s lack of communication and care for the program.

Samantha Chu ’24 hails from Redwood City, Calif. where she pitched and played second base for Carlmont High School’s softball team. “Because Coach Suchon was such a huge part of why I came to Grinnell, it is extremely disheartening that he will not be a part of my softball experience here,” Chu said.

Her father, Kevin Chu, agrees. “Suchon came to us and said, ‘Hey, we’re interested in your daughter and here is why.’ He really did something that no other recruiting coach did,” said Kevin Chu. “He was very detailed. He said exactly what he saw in our daughter and gave specific examples in games he had seen of her.”

Kevin and Jenny Chu, Samantha’s mother, along with eight other sets of parents, signed an email sent to Hamilton on Sept. 21 asking to know the reasoning behind Suchon’s termination and what steps are needed in order to reinstate him.

Because Coach Suchon was such a huge part of why I came to Grinnell, it is extremely disheartening that he will not be a part of my softball experience here. – Samantha Chu ’24

On Sept. 24, Hamilton wrote: “In response to your queries, I write to inform you that we are in the process of hiring a new assistant softball coach … we will not discuss personnel matters beyond a notice of hire.”

This email proved to be the first in a long series of attempts from softball parents who wish to have Suchon reinstated, and a long series of brush-offs from the Grinnell College administration. Parents continued to wonder why the person who had recruited their daughter to play at Grinnell had suddenly been let go. The parents created a petition to show support for Suchon’s reinstatement; it currently has 285 signatures.

“Coach Suchon was the most integral part of the recruiting process,” said Vermeulen.


An everchanging narrative

While no official reasoning has been given as to Suchon’s termination, the fired coach has been told many things. In the July 10 conversation, Greiner told Suchon that he would be removed from his appointment on staff due to COVID-19 restrictions. Greiner declined to comment for this story.

No other Grinnell College Athletics coach was fired due to COVID-19 regulations, and it’s unclear why Coach Suchon would be made the special case.

In the same meeting, according to Suchon, Griener told the coach that his position needed to be freed up due to a NCAA Women’s Coalition grant that Hamilton was applying for. This grant would have funded a female-specific position on the staff of the team.

In August, after the athletic department did not receive the grant, Suchon said that the department quickly switched the reason for his termination. The problem then became his relationship with Coach Anderson. The two have been in a relationship for seven years, which they made clear when they were initially hired. However, in a meeting with Hamilton, Suchon said he was told that the relationship was cause for termination with no other explanation.

Anderson declined to comment for this story.

Many other teams have coaches with close relationships, so there is no precedent for this reasoning at the College. Will and Evelyn Freeman, Grinnell College’s previous longtime track and field coaches, were married. Other examples include brother and sister duo Dave and Jennie Arseneault of women’s golf and father and son duo Tim and Ryan Hollibaugh of Grinnell College Baseball.

When Suchon showed Mary Griener that he and Anderson had previously received Hamilton’s written acknowledgment of the relationship, he said that Griener said she was not aware of Hamilton’s acknowledgement of the relationship, but that regardless it would be a problem moving forward.

Once Suchon showed Greiner email evidence of Hamilton’s acceptance, however, the story once again changed.

Then, in a meeting with Hamilton and Assistant Athletic Director Ben Cooprider, Suchon said he was told that the following comment, made in spring practices, was the reason for his firing: “I had 12-year-old boys that I could coach and could give instructions to, and I knew that they would get it done right, with this group I have to be here to instruct you through the whole thing.”

While Suchon said he had not received any notice that this comment made anyone feel uncomfortable or upset, both he and Coach Anderson were placed on a week-long suspension that spring for what Hamilton and Cooprider told them were the players’ mental health.

When The S&B reached out to upperclassmen for this story, they declined to comment. Cooprider did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Suchon, Greiner told him that he would be allowed to be an unpaid volunteer for the team, but he would not be able to apply for his old position. As of publication, the team is still in search of someone to fill the assistant coaching spot, while Suchon remains jobless in Grinnell.


A team divided and an uncertain future

While the newly recruited families feel strongly about the two coaches, upperclassmen have stayed out of the matter: “We have very different opinions from the people you’ve already interviewed, and things are already super complicated, so we’d like to stay out of it,” wrote Madeline Draper ’22 in email to The S&B, speaking on behalf of many upperclassmen players.

Amanda Reckamp was the former head coach for Grinnell Softball. Photo contributed by Ted Schultz.

Juniors and seniors were recruited by the previous Coach Reckamp. With an overall record of 60-194, the small and newly recruited classes came in expecting much of the same from the program. The two remaining classes that were coached by Reckamp are lingering now between two separate team cultures, led by two different coaching staffs.

Parents of upperclassmen feel disconnected from the situation. Paul Eiden, the father of Kaylie Eiden ’21 wrote to The S&B in an email, “My daughter, who is currently a senior, was recruited to play softball by Coach Reckamp, whose contract was not renewed after my daughters first year. While it bothered us terribly that Coach R had been let go, it is part of collegiate sports. A player should be playing for a love of the sport, not just the coach.”

Leaving the team with only one coach is a competitive disadvantage. Teams that Grinnell hopes to compete with in the Midwest Conference, such as Lake Forest College and Cornell College, each have four coaches for their softball teams.

The newer recruits and their parents, meanwhile, continue to forge ahead with their campaign for transparency from the administration.

“I think the biggest issue that it boils down to is lack of communication from the athletic department. Not necessarily from the head coach at all, because she’s been very communicative, but the administration has still given us no reasoning why the coach, who is loved by these girls, is being let go,” said Barbara Nelson, the mother of player Emma Nelson ’23.

A player should be playing for a love of the sport, not just the coach. – Paul Eiden

“Those of us who have been recruited by Coach Anderson and Coach Suchon feel really disappointed. They are a great team,” said Samantha Chu.

“I’m passionate about what I do,” said Suchon. “I love softball. I love working with players, and not just on the softball side, but the life part, dealing with failure and all that. I would love my job back. The administration, making the decision to remove me has caused a lot of stress on our athletes, especially during COVID-19 and virtual learning. It’s caused instability in their lives, because I was the source that they would reach out to if they were stressed,” he said.

The Grinnell College softball team is coming off of its best conference record ever, just to be stripped of one of the coaches who brought it there. Players and families remain without answers surrounding the firing, and the athletic department has yet to give any clear choice for a new coach to help the seriously lacking program. A team whose history has shown nothing but defeat seems in danger of heading back in that direction.

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    Paul EidenDec 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Mr Goedeker,

    I appreciate you reaching out to ask for my input amd I realize spatial constraints make it difficult to post my entire email so I have taken the liberty of attaching to this comment section. Further allow me to clarify that I do not feel disconnected from the issue. Parents do not have any business involving themselves in personnel decisions not being involved in collegiate sports. This is not “daddy ball”.

    Hi Ray

    Quite simply put, I don’t think parents should be involved in collegiate sports, much less in the personnel decisions made by either the college or the athletic department. While the first year players may have had a strong affinity towards Coach Suchon, the fact the athletic department made a staffing change is between the athletic department and the employee. I don’t see it as any different than if the English department decided to make a professor redundant because of staffing needs.

    My daughter, who is currently a senior, was recruited to play softball by Coach Reckamp whose contact was not renewed after my daughters first year. While it bothered us terribly that Coach R had been let go, it is part of collegiate sports. A player should be playing for a love of the sport, not just the coach.

    I don’t know Coach Suchon and have never met him. I’m sure he’s a very competent and nice guy, but observationally, one of the roles of an assistant coach is to be a sounding board and buffer between the coach and the players especially if the player(s) have an issue or problem they don’t feel they can bring to the coach. With Coach Suchon and Coach Anderson‘s close off campus relationship, that buffer level is no longer there. A person independent from the head coach might be a better fit for an assistant role.

    Thanks for reaching out

    Paul Eiden