My Side of the Story

Posted: May 19, 2018 in Coaching, Great Photographs, Life, Memories, Sports, Things I Love
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Thanks men. I’m proud of every one of you.

A few weeks ago things were great. As a high school basketball coach in Southern Ohio, my team had just completed back-to-back 17-win seasons and consecutive trips to the District Tournament at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio, our third and fourth trips there in the last 5-years. We accomplished this with few complaints from anybody. In fact, aside from one meeting during our 2015-2016 season and another in 2012-2013, things had run incredibly smoothly in our basketball program. I was extremely proud of my teams, their families and the Paint Valley administration and community. But let’s go back to the beginning . . .

About 6-years ago I was approached by the Athletic Director at out school and was asked to coach the boys basketball team, a job I’d held 16-years prior. I was apprehensive to say the least, so I asked several people their opinion. I was told that it wasn’t a good job, that we were a small school playing much bigger schools for the most part, there was very little talent in the program, and that the kids lacked the commitment to basketball that was evident in football. I was told that it was a different time, that kids were too busy with social media and online games to come to do the extra work or to open gyms.

I took the job anyway, and a week later we had 40 players at our first open gym. Turns out all you had to do was open the doors and they’d come right in. Who knew?

The interest was there, and it soon became obvious there was some talent in our school too.

That first year we won 8-games with a great group of guys, including 5-seniors who set the tone for the years to come. These guys bought into what we were doing and believed in me from the beginning. Our younger players watched them, saw how hard they worked, and that got us off to a good start. That first year we won those 8-games, including a win in the sectional tournament. The next year we won a Sectional Title and went all the way to the District Championship, and followed that up the next year with 16 wins, another Sectional Title and another District Final appearance. After a down year we bounced back with two straight 17-win seasons and two more Sectional Championships. As I mentioned before, all this with only a couple complaints, both of which were addressed and dealt with.

Or so I thought, which brings me back to a few weeks ago.

Again, I had no idea there was a problem until I was asked to come to a meeting with my Principal and Athletic Director on a Thursday. When I arrived I was told that our school board president had been given a list of “Public Concerns”. Right away the word “public” raised a red flag with me because the word “public” made it seem like the entire community was behind it, which I was sure wasn’t the case.

I was then told that the list was anonymous, rendering the term “public” meaningless, at least in my opinion. Hell, anyone can send in a list of complaints and say they were from the public. They may as well have said “national” complaints for all I cared at that point. To me, an unsigned letter is not a letter at all.

However, I was given a copy of the list, which I’ll happily show you later because I want to be as transparent as possible.

As I read the list, it became clear that a few people sat around a kitchen table somewhere, wracking their brain and trying to recall things they could add to the list. Since a few of the “concerns” involved the same people it’s pretty clear who all was involved. Was it a BOE member who actually created the list so they’d have a reason to vote against my renewal? I’ve been told by credible people that yes, it was.

At the time though, I wasn’t really worried. After all, it was a bunch of petty and trivial complaints that I was sure the board would dismiss for what they were, which was basically nothing. The administrators paid to evaluate me – the superintendent, principal and athletic director – were all going to recommend me to be rehired at the board meeting the following Monday.

To be sure, however, I called and texted all the board members to explain my position and to make sure we were all on the same page.

Of the five, two responded positively, one told me he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it and two refused to respond at all. Uh-oh. It was at this point I began to sense something was wrong.

Because of this I thought it would be a good idea to address the board before the vote. I did, and I went over each complaint, explained what each was about, and basically stated my case. Below are my notes regarding each concern, with the concern in bold and my response following. Click to enlarge:

As you can see, most were trivial, and in any event had been taken care of months, and in some cases even years ago.

Note: The complaint about leaving the players who were late for the bus came from one particular over-protective helicopter parent who just can’t get past it. It happened over 2-years ago.

As I went over my notes, one thing became apparent. Three of the board members didn’t care. They refused to look at me. They sat there, heads down and silent. What I was saying was irrelevant. The decision had clearly been made. When I finished there were no questions and zero discussion. This, after I’d given my heart and soul to the district for 25-years.

I was then non-renewed by a vote of 3-2.

After the meeting one board member, the president, stopped and attempted to explain to people who had gathered there, while the others who voted no walked briskly by with their heads down. I was told by the board president that he had, without further explanation, “followed his heart.”

Huh?

One month later, 2 of the 5 board members stepped down in protest, not just because I was non-renewed but because they felt the Paint Valley Board of Education had acted unethically, and quite possibly even illegally, in making the decision. You see, it’s illegal to have private meetings regarding board decisions prior to the board meeting, and this clearly occurred. And oh by the way, texts, phone calls and emails between 2-3 people is considered a meeting. It’s all spelled out in the Ohio Open Meeting Act and Sunshine Law.

Here is one of the board member’s letter of resignation, posted with his permission:

 

The letter speaks for itself.

I’d never blame any of my players for what their parents have done, and I hope you don’t either. I got along with all my players the past 6-years, and even the ones whose parents caused my non-renewal know I care about them. I know this because they’ve told me privately.

Am I upset about what happened? Of course I am. We’d changed the culture and were successful. We’d built something at Paint Valley I was proud of. We were a family. And as many of you know it takes a long time to build a culture, but it can disappear overnight. And in the end, a few people took away something I loved. Worse, I believed I had the support of the three people who voted against me.

Turns out I was wrong. They didn’t even have the courage or courtesy to come to me man-to-man, face-to-face, and address the issue. They took the coward’s way out. I considered all three friends, and I truly believed one would always have my back. He’d played for me and we’d won Paint Valley’s last league title together. Instead of having my back, however, he stabbed me in it.

The best damn fans anywhere. I love you guys.

And yes, I’ve heard the rumors. The board members who are saying that there’s “more to the story.” This is a common tactic among people when they’re trying to put doubt in people’s minds. Believe me, there’s nothing more. If you hear that, demand to hear the “more to the story.” There are no dark secrets. My coaching staff, players, and the administrators who are paid to evaluate me know this.

In retrospect it’s clear this had been in the making for awhile. I know for a fact at least one board member had talked to possible replacements for me as far back as January, and several people have told me that one board member was upset about his son’s varsity playing time. And believe it or not, there were apparently jealousies over all the attention my 6′-11″, 305-pound center received, the same player who happened to end up being the all-time scoring leader in school, league and county history. He also received a full scholarship to play Division I basketball, so yeah, he got some attention.

Bottom line, the decision to non-renew my contract was decided long before that meeting.

And you know the funny thing? All they had to do was sit me down after the season, look me in the eye and tell me that they wanted to make a change. If they’d had the common decency to do that I would have stepped down willingly. Instead, they chose to take the route they took. Guess it was easier for them.

Hey, you learn from these experiences. Some defend you fiercely and some are outspoken against you. And yes, you can learn a lot about those who remain silent too. Your circle grows smaller but stronger.

I’m also fully aware that, although I loved coaching at Paint Valley, there are worse things that can happen to a person. My family members can attest to that right now, believe me.

That said, I still love Paint Valley. I always will. A few small-minded, little, cowardly people can never change that. I wish nothing but the best for our athletes, and I only hope whoever coaches the basketball team loves the team, the school and the community as much as I do. I’m proud of the work I did there, the success we had, and the relationships I developed with my players, coaches, students and the best damn fans in the SVC.

And nobody can ever take that away.

Comments
  1. Beth Workman says:

    Thanks for sharing, Dave. It’s nice to hear the entire story from you just in case I hear anyone repeating information that’s not true. I hope you end up in a better place and I’m sorry for your pain. At least you know in your mind, the minds of your players, and the minds of your students—you did a great job!

  2. Shirley Gaskell says:

    I don’t know you or have anyone who plays for Paint Valley. I am so sorry this happened to you.
    I for one knows what it is like for my kid not to get to play a lot, but instead of bad mouthing the coach, or school I told him he needed to try harder and practice more to show the coach how good
    he could be. I wanted him to be prepared for life after high school , life isn’t always fair but if you handle it right you can succeed.

    • Shoe says:

      Thank you Shirley! That means so much. I appreciate it. And I’m fine! They can’t take away the memories or the relationships I developed there.

Gimme a holler.

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