PLATTEVILLE — For the second time in less than a year, a Platteville Public Schools decision to not retain a high school coach was met with vocal opposition at a School Board meeting.
Platteville High School girls basketball and softball coach Jim Lawinger said July 31 he was told that he would be relieved as girls basketball and volleyball coach, though he could reapply for those positions.
More than a dozen supporters of Lawinger, including some of his players and an assistant coach, spoke in the public comment period of Monday’s School Board meeting.
Because the item was not on the meeting agenda, the School Board took no action on the comments. That was similar to late last year, when Yvette Updike was non-renewed as PHS volleyball coach after taking Platteville to the state volleyball tournament for the first time in 20 years, and the School Board took no action on Updike’s non-renewal.
On Monday, the crowd was smaller than in November, but speakers were unanimous in their support of Lawinger.
Several brought up a phrase Lawinger said the school district used in its email to him — “the Platteville philosophy.”
“I’ve been in this position before,” said youth sports coach Curt Timlin. “I’m asking the board or the administration to define what the ‘Platteville philosophy’ is.”
Including Updike’s nonrenewal, Timlin said the school district was “taking quality people and throwing them under our school buses and running over them.”
“Platteville High School will never find a coach that represents the good things about come out of Platteville than Jim Lawinger,” said Tud Bowden, an assistant softball coach with Lawinger. “‘Do the right thing and you never have to say you’re sorry’ is the primary lesson and coaching philosophy of Jim Lawinger.”
Bowden, whose daughter played softball for the Hillmen the past two seasons, said people were “spinning stories” to discredit Lawinger, and that “the Platteville administration has not supported coach Lawinger for reasons that are unclear to me. … I never witnessed coach Lawinger do anything wrong, unethical or detrimental” to PHS. “Jim Lawinger is not a perfect man, but he’s honest and his heart is in the right place.”
“I am also saddened that the district seems to think that coaches can be easily replaced,” said Jamie Bell, Lawinger’s daughter. “Good coaches are going to be passionate. They want players to step outside their comfort zone.
“I have been told to not send my boys to Platteville because the athletic program is pathetic. I did not want to believe that.”
“This wasn’t the Platteville way when I attended school,” said PHS alumnus Mark Spensley. “I had coaches who yelled at me … and a couple of them, God rest their soul, they were like fathers to me. … Don’t all 15- to 18-year-olds need yelling at once in a while?”
Spensley noted Lawinger’s helping players in basketball and baseball, even college players. Spensley called Lawinger “an outstanding man — player, coach, person. Period.”
Lawinger’s brother, Tom, asked why Updike was non-renewed immediately after the volleyball season, but Jim Lawinger was non-renewed after summer basketball.
Tom Lawinger said his brother made an analogy of pitchers as fathers and catchers as mothers in a family. “That evidently doesn’t fit the Platteville philosophy, because that might offend someone without a father,” he said.
Tom Lawinger also said his brother was fired because “evidently he made girls cry.” He said his two girls “came home crying a lot” from sports practices, including one who was moved from a mile relay to a two-mile relay for the track postseason, eventually winning a state title.
“Coaches can make kids cry, and they learn from it,” he said.
Deb McWilliams said upon reading The Platteville Journal story on Lawinger’s nonrenewals that she was “a little taken aback and couldn’t believe it, actually.”
McWilliams noted Lawinger’s “unbelievable” coaching record, adding, “And we don’t want that? … There is nothing about him that Platteville doesn’t want. … We’re not teaching our kids what they need to know.”
Doris Clare, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of Platteville students, said she was “appalled that someone can be treated as Jim has been treated.”
One of the only two statements from PPS administration came during a question by Sue Wehnke of new PHS activities director Michael Foley.
Wehnke asked if Foley had been involved in the decision, saying, “In any employer/employee situation, you have to be given a warning … and I don’t know if it was done this time or not.”
“I can’t discuss that,” said Foley.
The other came from PHS principal Tim Engh, who said that the girls basketball coaching position would be posted first internally “probably in the next couple of weeks.” Engh said Lawinger would be considered an external candidate.
Lawinger coached the PHS softball team in 2014 and 2015. His 2014 team finished 16–6 and won a share of the program’s first conference title since 2001. Platteville went 7–13 in 2015. Platteville’s girls basketball team finished 13–11 in his only season coaching it, in 2014–15.
Editor's note: The print version of this story said Lawinger was informed via email that he would not continue as coach. Lawinger was informed in a meeting that he would not continue as coach. The Journal regrets the error, which is corrected here.