XC coach let go in surprise move to team; School board approves replacement


Cross crountry runners pose after winning first place in the 2018 District 11 championship meet with coaches Kelly Bracetty (second from right) and Kami Reinhard.(far right). Bracetty’s contract was not renewed. Contributed photo.

Erick De La Rosa, Sports Editor

Two-time Lehigh Valley Live Coach of the Year Kelly Bracetty saw her Emmaus girls’ and boys’ cross country teams find success in her three years as head of the program, leading to speculation surrounding her unexpected removal from the position.

Bracetty coached the girls’ team to a 39-0 record since her arrival in 2018, adding some hardware with back-to-back district championships in the last two seasons. The boys’ team wasn’t too far behind; they went 32-7 under Bracetty’s leadership.

Bracetty’s loss of her contracted position in March led to shock in the Emmaus running community, as by all accounts, she had done nothing short of a solid job.

Athletic Director Rebecca George clarified that it is district policy to not speak about the status of any former personnel, but reassured The Stinger that the hiring process to replace Bracetty would “ensure the safety of students.”

“What I can say is that we have opened up the position for cross country coach, and we are currently reviewing the candidates,” George said on April 13. “The next [coach] in that position will be the one that I believe in, and that will have the students’ safety at the forefront. My job is to always ensure the safety of our student athletes.”

On Monday, May 10, the school board appointed head track coach Kami Reinhard to take over Bracetty’s spot for the upcoming fall season; Reinhard has served as a cross country assistant coach since 2015.

While Bracetty’s teams had winning seasons, Emmaus girls’ cross country is known for its long history of talent and success going back to the 1980s. Her predecessor, Emmaus High School teacher Dan Wessner, coached the girls’ team to three consecutive state championships from 2007 to 2009 during his 18-year reign.

Bracetty not only coached Emmaus cross country with Reinhard, but also served as an assistant distance coach for the track team, mentoring nearly all the same athletes that she worked with in the fall.

But this December, as practices began for winter track club, students learned that Bracetty would not return as their distance track coach. This was a few weeks after she garnered her second Lehigh Valley Live Coach of the Year title. Athletes were told that she wanted to spend more time with her family. (In the 2019-20 school year, Lower Macungie Middle School teacher Brian Miller assisted during her absences from winter track.)

However, Bracetty later emailed her former athletes, categorically denying this. 

“Recently, some have reached out to ask if I was still coaching track this spring,” Bracetty wrote in an email to students in early April. “It is with extreme sadness that I share this message with you. Unfortunately, I am not able to return this spring but I do want to make it clear that it was not to spend more time with my family.”

In the email, Bracetty wrote that she reapplied for her position, hoping she would be allowed to stay at EHS.

“After several conversations over the past few months, it has been made clear that the administration and I have different visions for the future direction and success of the cross country program,” Bracetty wrote. “It is well known that Emmaus is the only place I want to coach at and after 3 years of successfully building this program, I would never choose to walk away on my own. I would like to thank our [Athletic Director] for giving me the initial opportunity to coach here and if the opportunity to return presents itself, I would love to continue coaching at Emmaus. I know this news may be discouraging to some, as it is for me. I encourage you to reach out to me if you would like additional details and am happy to answer any questions.”

In an email interview with The Stinger, Bracetty reiterated that she will not be returning as the coach due to the “different visions of the future” that she and George shared for the program, and although neither she nor George would specify that difference in opinion, Bracetty denied it was because of her philosophies in training.

After Bracetty sent her email to the high school runners, George and Reinhard held a closed door meeting with underclassmen distance runners to discuss the situation, several runners confirmed. Student athletes were told that Bracetty would not return, and that the district would search for a replacement, according to several at the meeting. 

Before it was announced that she would replace Bracetty, Reinhard redirected all questions relating to Bracetty’s removal to administration.

With confidentiality surrounding the situation because it involves a personnel issue, students have speculated as to what had happened to their former coach.

Senior Cameron Carter ran cross country and track for his entire high school career, until he decided to quit this winter. Carter believes Bracetty’s coaching style led to conflicts amongst the coaching staff, and risked injury to him and possibly other students.

“Cross country destroyed my legs,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if disputes about the mileage is what led to her firing. For cross country we would be running 40, 50 miles a week, with almost no rest days. It was a lot.”

“Bracetty was more of a push-through-the-pain kinda coach, very distinctly different from [Coach Reinhard],” said Carter, who had held one of the top three spots coming into the 2020 fall season. “They would fight a lot because as Bracetty wanted to continue that into the track season, [Reinhard] wanted to definitely scale that back, especially because track distance running isn’t as long as cross country running.”

By his senior year, Carter said, “I hated it. It just wasn’t for me.” 

Carter wasn’t the only runner who saw his performance dip. 

Senior Keshav Shankar was the boys’ number one runner, ranked 16th in the district meet during his junior year and headed to states. By 12th grade, Shankar would drop to 28th in the district. He did not return to states, a feat he also did in 10th grade. In fact, no one from the boys’ team made it to Hershey this year. He declined to comment.

Under Bracetty’s program, one trend among most top runners who went to states was a gain of time. On average, they added 24.7 seconds on the 3.1-mile course, according to times provided by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. Several runners confirmed they logged up to 50 miles a week and ended up with stress-induced injuries.

The only major outlier to this trend was a senior who, being only one of two Hornets to drop time, dropped over 90 seconds from what she ran in 2019.

Another senior Abby Barnes, who ran under Bracetty for three years, believes philosophical differences may have led to her removal.

“My freshman year, [former coach Dan] Wessner was the coach and he was a lot more relaxed,’’ Barnes said. “It was more go-at-your-own-pace. When Bracetty came in, I mean, she’s a marathon runner and super competitive, so the training right away became much more rigorous.”

 “I remember at one point, we all got shin splints at the exact same time because we weren’t used to pounding all that pavement,’’ Barnes said.

Senior Ashleigh McNellis, who felt there was some tension between the coaches before Bracetty left, doesn’t believe the former coach’s training plans posed any risks.

“Bracetty had a close relationship with all of us and would never do anything to harm one of her [student athletes],” McNellis said. “From what I understand, [Reinhard] and Bracetty were not getting along… It sucks because I think both were amazing coaches, I loved both of them, and I wish an easier solution could have been worked out.”

Reinhard, also an accomplished runner who works in the area as a physical therapist at Lehigh Valley Hospital, denies that her relationship with Bracetty led to the coaching change — or that any conflicts arose from their differing coaching styles.

“No, in fact, you know the cool thing was that’s been the greatest blessing,” Reinhard said. “It’s almost like an unfair question, [If Bracetty’s coaching style lead to any injuries] because in one regard, hindsight is 20/20, but in the moment, these kids are like super pumped in the beginning [of] the season; they’re doing all this work, and then if something happens, they look back and they try to assign fault, and I don’t know if that’s the case or not.”

 Despite the challenge that Bracetty added, Barnes still believes Bracetty deserves to lead the team.

“I thought she was a great coach,” Barnes said. “She would always take the time to get to know and talk to all of her runners, not just the top ones, which a lot of coaches tend to do. I don’t think she deserves to be [gone], but I don’t know what happened behind closed doors. She taught me how to be more committed to something and she genuinely cared for all her runners.”

Not alone in feeling this way, McNellis believes that the program will ultimately suffer with this decision.

“It really saddens me that this was the decision that was reached,” McNellis said. “She was on her way to perfecting her craft and being the freaking best coach around here. I feel bad for underclassmen, because they won’t get the full experience of having her like the rest of us did. Given more time she could’ve made it something special.”

In her early April email to runners, Bracetty gave one last goodbye, showing gratitude for her three years of coaching.

“I want you to know it has been a sincere pleasure to coach you and to see each and every single one of you improve not only as runners but more importantly as teammates who supported each other as a family,” Bracetty said. “I have learned more from my runners than I could have ever imagined. Your dedication to our program and willingness to put your teammates before yourself is a quality I will always remember about you.”

On April 28, Bracetty came to the dual Parkland meet to watch the team, messaging the teenagers words of congrats and advice as they competed under the guidance of Emmaus coaches. She would do the same on May 10th, watching the EPC championship meet online. Administrators said they were unaware of this.

Additional reporting by Greta Miller.