Platteville Public Schools will indeed be seeking new candidates for the Platteville High School varsity volleyball head coaching position in the spring.
After more than 45 minutes of open session comments from former coach Yvette Updike and her supporters at last Wednesday’s school board meeting, Platteville School Board president Brian Miesen delivered a two-sentence statement addressing the issue that has caused much debate within the city over the past two weeks.
“The board has discussed the issue regarding the volleyball coaching position in closed session,” said Miesen. “The district will be seeking new candidates for the position.”
The board’s announcement attempts to clear up the confusion on the issue from the previous board meeting on Nov. 24.
At that Nov. 24 meeting, three parents spoke against Updike, one alleging, “abuse, verbal abuse and bullying” and “harassment, both to players and parents” had gone on “over the past eight years.”
However, other parents of players, one current player, one former player, other coaches from Platteville High School, and a number of others — 16 people in all — expressed support for Updike at the meeting.
Updike believes she was the target of parental complaints, which she described as “orchestrated.”
At Wednesday’s meeting Updike said, “I believe I have been targeted for the past five years by one parent, who continuously questioned the offense, defense, conditioning, open gyms, leagues and everything else surrounding the Platteville volleyball program.” She claims that parent also held independent practices to which not all players were invited and believes the administration “had not addressed any of her concerns with the parent.” Updike additionally believes the parents did not follow the “Communication Chain” as outlined by the district.
This controversy began to spiral out of control shortly after Platteville made its first appearance in the WIAA state volleyball tournament in 20 years, when the Hillmen lost to eventual Division 2 champion Waukesha Catholic Memorial on Nov. 7 in Green Bay.
On Nov. 10 Updike set up a meeting with PPS superintendent Connie Valenza, PHS principal Tim Engh and her assistant coaches Denise Berntgen and Megan Pickel to inform the administration about a number of concerns involving the Platteville volleyball team.
On Nov. 12 Updike received a phone call from PHS activities director Eric Newton saying he would follow up with Valenza and Engh.
According to Updike she received a phone call from Newton saying “there were complaints that had been received, but nothing was in writing. He stated not to worry and the administration was here for me.”
On Nov. 15 Updike spoke with Valenza regarding the complaints and according to Updike, Valenza said “there were no written complaints only calls into the district’s Pupil Service Director” and that Valenza “took proactive measures and interviewed six players and stated she was very comfortable stating that she genuinely saw no concerns.”
Of Updike’s assertion that Valenza said that she genuinely saw no concerns, Valenza said, “that is untrue.”
On Nov. 18 Newton set up a meeting for Thursday, Nov. 20 at 3:30 p.m. between himself, Valenza and Updike.
At the end of that Nov. 20 meeting Updike said Valenza “asked for my letter of resignation. Told me it was in my interest and that she needed it by Monday.”
After the open session of the Nov. 24 school board meeting where concerns from both sides of the coaching issue where publicly heard, Updike was invited to address the board in executive session.
Updike said she made her case to remain the Platteville High School volleyball coach, without any feedback from the board or Valenza, and left the room.
Valenza then made the recommendation to the board to not renew Updike as the PHS head volleyball coach.
In that same executive-session the School Board took no action against Valenza’s recommendation, meaning the board backed Valenza’s decision to not renew Updike's contract for the 2015–16 season.
In a letter to Updike, obtained by The Journal, dated Nov. 25, Valenza listed three reasons for Updike’s non-renewal as coach.
• Updike “violated WIAA rules in the past,” and according to Valenza, “continued, even after being warned,” to violate WIAA rules “related to offseason coaching contact.”
• Updike “continued to have negative interactions with parents after being warned.” Valenza said Updike told players directly that she was “sick and tired of parent complaints and the next parent that complained, that student was getting kicked off the team.” Valenza said Updike’s threat was “verified by students and coaches that were supportive,” of Updike and her coaching. Valenza also said that Updike “had an email exchange with a parent on the team complaining about the actions of another parent on the team,” which Valenza said was “divisive and does nothing to improve relationships between parents of the team.”
• Updike “had negative interactions with students that resulted in them feeling demeaned and singled out.” Referring to an incident on the team bus following the state tournament game on Nov. 7. Valenza said “Rather than just congratulating the students on the team and telling them they should be proud, [Updike] accused them of backstabbing and specifically singled students out by name.” Valenza said the incident was “verified by multiple team members that are both supporters and non-supporters” of Updike’s.
Valenza said the decision “has nothing to do with playing time, positions, bringing freshmen up to varsity, choosing players based on talent instead of grade level, or parents’ opinions related to coaching techniques. … My role is not to get into the X’s and O’s of coaching and I have no question that you handle that aspect of coaching well. As superintendent, I am obligated to follow up on specific reports related to interactions between the coach and students or the coach and parents when they fall within the realm of ‘alleged bullying or harassment.’”
Valenza’s memo pointed to the Platteville Public Schools employee handbook, adding, “As an ‘at-will employee,’ there is no promise of a contract from year to year, nor a need to provide justification to discontinue employment. … What I said to you is that I did not find that you had bullied students on your team. That did not mean that I did not believe there was misconduct on your part.”
Valenza continued, “I agree that there is not one specific cause or person that is responsible for the stress and hard feelings between members on the team. As with any problem, there are multiple factors and history that have played into where we are today. Beyond the coaching relationship, there are divisions between parents and students. Moving forward positively will take more than a simple change in the head coach. Parents and students are line up on both sides of this issue and there is no way to make a decision that will make everyone happy. As I said previously, that was not my goal, rather to investigate specific accusations of employee misconduct.”
Prior to the board’s announcement Wednesday night, Updike delivered an emotional 20-minute speech to the board pleading her case to remain Platteville’s volleyball coach while addressing the accusations against her.
She distributed a copy of her four-page statement, as well as a three-page timeline of events leading up to the board’s decision to each member of the board, Valenza and the present media.
“I am confused by some of the events that have led up to this point,” said Updike. “I have a few questions for the School Board that I hope to have addressed. Why did Mrs. Valenza not report to the board and public at the school board meeting on Monday, Nov. 24, a statement that the next day she wrote in a memo to me which stated, ‘What I said to you is that I did not find that you had bullied students on your team.’ Instead, she allowed this false allegation to be publicized and spread throughout the state.
“What have these false allegations done now to not only myself, my two daughters, the players, the program and the entire Platteville community?”
Updike objected to the accusations of WIAA rules violations, the first reason for her non-renewal as listed in Valenza’s memo on Nov. 25 by saying, “On Monday, Dec. 1, I contacted the WIAA regarding this accusation and have received a correspondence from the WIAA stating, ‘We do not show any investigations, reports, or penalties associated with the Platteville volleyball program.”
Updike also said in an email correspondence from former PHS Activities Director Al Minter to Valenza, dated May 23, that read, “I hate to admit it but I have checked the video a couple of times to see what was taking place at the open gyms. What I have seen is Yvette getting the net and balls out of storage, the girls setting up two courts and Yvette either sitting on a chair or taking walks in the hallway. Again these are appropriate and expected behaviors of a coach running an open gym ... Perhaps it is time to stop hiding behind emails and secret meetings and sit down and have an honest conversation about the real issues surrounding this program.”
Updike addressed negative interactions with parents, the second reason for her non-renewal, by saying, “I did not follow the directive by a parent to change the stats for two players. I did not move up a sophomore player to the varsity like the parent requested me to do so because it was not in the best interest for their daughter or the team. On three different occasions during the past summer, I was approached by this same parent regarding their daughter being on varsity. I notified the administration on these occasions and received no acknowledgement or response.
“An email exchange between myself and another parent during the off-season in which this parent specifically stated that another parent is, ‘definitely is in his/her own little world ... he/she is just up to no good ... if one way doesn’t work he/she will try another.’ This again was one of the numerous pieces of evidence I took to the administration regarding this parent who has been attacking me and has been extremely negative towards the volleyball program for years. Mrs. Valenza stated it was a negative interaction with parents. How is this viewed as negative interaction with a parent when in-season this same parent stated, ‘congrats on a fun and successful season.’”
In addressing the accusation of negative interactions with the students, Updike explained a number of incidents. One included a player thanking her “for believing in her and not giving up on her yet her parent was quoted in The Platteville Journal calling the season, ‘not a positive experience for my daughter.’”
Updike also spoke of a player giving her a thank you card at the end of the season which read, “I just wanted to thank you for everything! ... to believing in me the whole time!” and “Volleyball is always a great time, and I would not be where I am today without you!” But according to Updike this player’s parent wrote in a complaint to Mrs. Valenza, “I could not imagine putting another daughter in these types of situations.” Updike called this “conflicting and confusing feedback to me.”
Additionally, Updike said, “it was brought to my attention that a player and a few others were going to another facility not only on days of our practices, days of contests, but also on Sundays to work with another parent. I feel this was an undermining gesture towards my ability as a coach.”
Updike then referenced receiving “a text message from a player at 1:05 a.m. telling me how to do the lineup for state” and on four players coming to her house on Nov. 5 prior to state to discuss rotations for the state tournament.
Regarding the bus incident following the state tournament game, Updike wrote in her timeline, “On the bus ride heading back to the hotel room, I talked to the team and told them how proud I was of them and the great accomplishments they achieved for themselves, the Platteville volleyball program and the entire Platteville community. I told them not to hold their heads and continued to positively communicate with the players. A few players displayed attitude and disrespect. I addressed the attitude and questions of the line/rotations the week of state. I wanted the team to move on and enjoy the rest of their stay at state and their accomplishment. All communication was in a normal toned voice. A player spoke and asked for clarification as she was confused. After more dialogue, another player raised her voice in frustration with the undermining and cutting down by other teammates to herself. I redirected the conversation to we win as a team and lose as a team, family concept, team’s accomplishments, and the Platteville community pride. The conversation ended and as one player was exiting the bus, she turned around and said to me, ‘if you are the coach I will not be back, I quit.’ There was no more discussion. When the team got back to their respective room, one of the captains on the team called for a team meeting. I was not present.”
Updike finished her speech to the board by asking for her job back.
“I have been publicly accused of bullying and harassing, which are serious terms which affect me personally and professionally. This has greatly affected not only myself, but also my two daughters,” she said. “This has been emotionally draining for me and my family. We have not been able to enjoy and cherish this amazing journey to state for myself, the team, the volleyball program, and the Platteville community. I take great pride in the volleyball program I have built here in Platteville. I care about every athlete who has ever participated in the volleyball program. I enjoy watching and developing these athletes into not only volleyball players, but successful young women.”
Curt Timlin also spoke on Updike’s behalf. “We had a volleyball team that spent 87 days working together to accomplish something great like going to state,” he said. “No, in 33 days we have torn that all apart. We need to work together. But against each other we can’t accomplish anything.”
Former varsity assistant coach Jeff Henderson also addressed the board. Henderson coached alongside Updike for six years prior to accepting the position to coach eighth grade volleyball this season. He made it clear he was not asked to speak to the board and he did not leave the varsity program because of any issues between himself and Updike.
“Coach Updike improved on the court every single year, every single day from day one,” he said. “You can’t ask for anything more from a coach. When coach Updike was hired she was hired to build a program. She did just that. When she took over Platteville volleyball was in shambles.
“Sometimes we allow outside distractions to create problems within our groups. As parents we need to circle the wagons, respect one another and help one another, not harass one another. That creates a negative situation.”
“If this would have been properly investigated further before involving the school board we would not be here tonight,” said Carl Winkers, Updike’s father.
“I’m sure as a parent if you thought your child was being bullied you wouldn’t wait until the end of the season to address the issue with the coach or administration,” said Scott Statz, Platteville head football coach. “And why did those parents not follow the chain of command and go to the athletic director instead of straight to the top to the superintendent?
“I think we are setting a very slippery slope for coaches. I don’t know anyone that would want to coach in a district where that is allowed to happen. Who’s next? As a coach or a teacher that’s something to worry about.”
When interviewed afterward about her decision, Valenza said, “As with any decision I make I have heard from multiple people and looked at multiple pieces of information. My job is not to make decisions based on popular opinion. My job is to make decisions that I believe to be in the best interests of our students.”
When asked if her decision to not renew Updike was final, Valenza said, “The board could always say to me they would like to revisit any decision I’ve made at anytime. But at this point they haven’t done this.”
“At the end of the day we had to figure out what was best for our students,” added Newton, who was privy to all emails, phone calls and complaints against Updike and assisted Valenza in the investigation. “When all is said and done we want to make sure they are having a positive experience with Platteville sports.”
When asked why the school board chose to take no action against Valenza’s recommendation to not renew Updike and back the decision to seek a new volleyball coach for next season Miesen said, “Our decision as a board was made based on the information that was presented to us. It’s not just the information Connie has received, but also the texts, phone calls and emails we have received and we have had time to digest the information. It’ like any other situation. You trust you gut and go with that.”
Miesen estimates he alone has received 40-plus phone calls, texts and emails regarding the issue and estimates each of the other eight board members have received a similar number of communications.
“Tonight I am fully confident in the decision the board has made,” Miesen added. “Down the road, I’m sure there will be more phone calls, emails and texts both for and against [coach Updike], that could change.”
In her seven seasons a Platteville head coach, Updike led the Hillmen to a record of 183–81–12, including a 40–6 record and a share of the SWC title this fall. She has a career record of 298–151–22, which includes six seasons at Fennimore from 1999 to 2005.