Skip Navigation

After weeks of controversy, Gettysburg school board votes to retain transgender tennis coach

  • By Zach Hoopes/
Sasha Yates has coached at Gettysburg Area School district since 2019.

 Gabriela Martinez / WITF

Sasha Yates has coached at Gettysburg Area School district since 2019.

After weeks of delay, Gettysburg’s school board voted Tuesday night to rehire the district’s tennis coach, whom residents feared was being targeted for being transgender.

The board of the Gettysburg Area School District voted 6-to-2, with one member absent, to renew tennis coach Sasha Yates’ contract for the fall season. The board had deadlocked early last month on a vote to retain Yates, and opted to not vote on the matter at a subsequent meeting – leading the girls’ tennis team to start the season without a coach.

In an email after Tuesday’s meeting, Yates said she was “extremely delighted” to continue at Gettysburg, where she has coached the girls’ and boys’ tennis teams since 2018.

“I have been very moved by the outpouring of support that I have received,” Yates said, and “I am very much looking forward to continuing to support and guide both teams as they represent Gettysburg Area High School in the coming seasons.”

Board members had divulged scant details as to precisely why Yates’ contract was receiving additional scrutiny, although some members asserted it was not specifically because of her male-to-female gender transition, which Yates said she began in 2021.

The lack of clarity as to why Yates’ contract was being impeded – despite what students described as a stellar coaching record – led to an outpouring of concern that Yates was indeed being singled out because of her gender. The issue was exacerbated by board member Michelle Smyers giving interviews to conservative media outlets criticizing Yates, and working with a right-wing law firm that said it was combatting the “insidious transgender movement” by assisting Smyers.

On Tuesday, board President Kenneth Hassinger said the delay on Yates’ contract was to give the board sufficient time to investigate further concerns about her – concerns that turned out not to be credible.

“Overall I think it came down to widespread rumors that were going on in the public and we wanted to take a deep breath and make sure we had all the information before we took a vote,” Hassinger told PennLive after Tuesday’s meeting.

“We were able to go back and look and see if rumors and other stuff, if there was any factual basis behind it – and I think you saw the vote tonight would tell you that the majority of those rumors did not have a factual basis to them,” Hassinger continued.

Asked if he believed those rumors were driven by Yates’ being transgender, Hassinger said he had no way of knowing – but that in his own conversations with the board, “gender was not an issue.”

“The comments that this was on [Yates being] transgender are not factually correct in my world,” Hassinger told attendees shortly before Tuesday’s vote, echoing statements made last month by board Vice President Michael Dickerson.

“It was simply the issues that were outlined with the bathroom usage,” Hassinger said.

In September 2022, Yates was given a letter from Gettysburg High School principal Jeremy Lusk outlining “concerns” with some of her recent actions and stressing that it is “imperative to maintain professional boundaries.”

The memo stated that Yates had changed near students in the girls’ locker room, although Yates said she only removed her top in a discreet corner, and that she talked to students about undergarment preferences and menstruation, although Yates said she did not recall asking such questions.

Hassinger also indicated that the board had fielded two further complaints that Yates had used a women’s restroom, and had walked through the girls’ locker room on the way to a meeting.

Yates – as well as multiple students and parents who spoke Tuesday – said they were of the understanding that the issues had been resolved, particularly with the district instructing coaches to use only single-occupancy changing rooms.

Further, Yates’ contract was renewed without issue for the spring 2023 tennis season – after the letter of warning was given – causing several speakers to question why otherwise settled issues were being raised months later.

Tuesday’s meeting drew nearly 200 people, about the same number as the one two weeks ago where the board had punted voting on Yates’ contract. Although a few more people spoke against Yates than before, the majority of the comments were still squarely in the coach’s corner.

“The issue of Coach Sasha simply changing her attire in the girls’ locker room was promptly resolved,” said Tristan Smith, the rising captain of the Gettysburg boys’ tennis team who said he was also helping to coach the girls’ team in Yates’ absence.

“There’s no validity to the disgusting claims I’ve heard about my coach,” Smith said, adding that he believed the gossip mill that apparently threatened Yates’ contract would not have happened if it was a cisgender coach using the locker room.

“I cannot stand here and refuse to acknowledge that blatant transphobia is the main motivation behind this commotion,” Smith said, describing Yates as an exemplary coach.

A significant amount of public criticism was again directed at Smyers, whose Facebook page includes a number of anti-transgender statements, including a missive in which she refers to transgender people as a “cult.” Smyers has said she is the local chapter chair of Moms for Liberty, a national group which has has fought to restrict or ban materials referencing LGBTQ people from school classrooms.

Smyers “has used her platform to attack the trans community even before there was any question about the conduct of Coach Yates,” said Molly Heaton, a member of the Gettysburg girls’ tennis team.

Smyers has recently given interviews to right-wing websites suggesting that Yates’ disrobing in the locker room was more brazen and revealing than the 2022 letter made it out to be. Last month, America First Legal – an advocacy group run by former Trump advisor Stephen Miller – said it had sent a letter to the school district on Smyers’ behalf demanding that district administrators turn over additional records on Yates’ employment.

In a press release about Smyers’ efforts, the group said it was working to “protect students from the insidious transgender movement.”

Smyers, along with board member Ryan Morris, voted against approving Yates’ contract Tuesday. Smyers defended herself in a brief statement before the vote, saying “I am not a schoolyard bully, I am not anti-LGBTQ,” and that “never once have I ever discriminated against a child here.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Climate & Energy

‘We should be doing more’: Pa.’s expanded environmental justice policy goes into effect this month