RARITAN TOWNSHIP — A veteran wrestling coach who was suspended after a parent complained about comments he made at a camp can get a new hearing in front of the local school board.

An appellate panel issued a decision allowing the coach, identified by the initials S.G., to plead his case, affirming a similar ruling by an administrative law judge.

The coach was suspended after an incident in the summer of 2014 when he brought several students to a team camp at Rutgers University. The coach told one of the students that he hoped he did not have access to any weapons or the key to the gun closet, the panel said.

The special-needs student said he felt embarrassed in front of others and told his parents, who picked him up early from the camp.

The school investigated and determined that the coach's words were a violation of the the anti-bullying and harassment policy. District officials recommended that he be suspended from coaching. The coach requested a hearing in front of the board but that request was denied. Instead, he was invited to make a statement at the next board meeting. The coach objected to not getting a hearing and did not attend the next meeting, during which the board fired him.

MyCentralJersey identified the coach as Stephen Gibble in an article last year, reporting that he had coached for 22 years with a career record of 348-119. He is a member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's Coaches Hall of Fame.

After being suspended, Gibble filed an appeal with the state commissioner of education. The case was sent to an administrative law judge, who found that Gibble had made the statements that were heard by others. The judge also ruled that the district violated Gibble's due process. After an appeal by the school board, the commissioner ruled in July 2016 that Gibble was in fact entitled to a hearing.

The coach appealed, however, because he believed the school board members would be "hostile" to his position and that the hearing would take place too many years after the incident.

In their decision, the appellate judges say they are not persuaded by his arguments and affirmed the commissioner's decision.

"On the current record, petitioner has made no showing that the passage of time would undermine his due process rights nor has he demonstrated that the Board cannot be an impartial decision maker," the panel said. "Indeed, petitioner's arguments in that regard are based on speculation."

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