SENECA - What many Seneca School Board members probably thought would be a routine approval to continue the co-op football team with Wauzeka-Steuben for two more seasons turned out to be a little less routine than some may have anticipated.
The board had taken the matter up as a topic of discussion at earlier meetings, including last January when parents approached the board in an informational meeting about the future of the co-op team. There was a general agreement that the co-op was working out and the school would continue the agreement with Wauzeka-Steuben, when the matter came before the board for a vote.
The matter came up again briefly this fall as a December deadline to register for eight-man football approached. At that time, the board acknowledged that they had given signs to Wauzeka-Steuben that they would signup for another two seasons in the co-op.
However, Monday night when the proposal to approve participating in the co-op team for another two seasons came before the board, one of newer board member balked at the idea.
Charles Clark began by indicating he had not been part of the previous discussion and did not feel bound by sentiments expressed by the board about joining the co-op.
Clark’s wife, Erika Clark, is the school district’s athletic director. Clark told the board that his wife had received calls from parents of students that felt their children had been the indirect target of jokes about race, family size and low income, while practicing or playing with the co-op football team.
Clark indicated that he had personally talked with some of the parents expressing concerns about the derogatory jokes. He also told the board that everyone he had talked with about the matter had insisted on confidentiality. He said he felt bound to not reveal the identity of those with whom he had spoken.
Clark said he believed the atmosphere of the co-op team meant neither school was in charge and behavior like this could flourish without direct control by one school over one program. Therefore, he felt Seneca should leave the co-op and control its own football program by adopting the eight-man team format adopted by three or four other local schools.
That’s where the rub arrived. Seneca School Superintendent Dave Boland informed, or in many cases reminded, the school board members that the deadline had passed for a district to declare its intent to play eight-man football for the 2019 and 2020 season.
Boland explained that while Seneca could decline to go forward with the co-op team agreement even at this late date, they would not be allowed to play eight-man football in either of the next two seasons and would have to field 11-man teams.
At one point, Clark asked head coach Justin Goodrich if he thought the school would be able to field an 11-man team on its own and Goodrich indicated he did not think it was possible.
Several board members and the school district administrator indicated that if jokes at the expense of team members’ race or income status were made and tolerated by some of the coaching staff, that was wrong and had to stop.
No one was more adamant on this point than district administrator Dave Boland.
“If this is happening it’s wrong and it has to stop,” Boland said. He pointed out that there was stated policy in the student handbook and co-curricular handbook that outlines what happens in these situations.
With three of the co-op team’s football coaches in the room, Clark indicated that the information he had been told confidentially about the situation seemed to be more about actions of coaches on the team that had ties to Wauzeka-Steuben and not the three coaches present with ties to Seneca.
Board member Larry Kelley said that for anything to be done about this situation, those with the complaints would have to come forward so the matter could be pursued.
Clark reiterated that he had guaranteed those with whom he spoke confidentiality.
Several board members, including Shawn Lenzendorf, Larry Kelly and Mark Johnson, indicated that several members of the community had contacted them urging that the co-op team be continued.
Board member Rachael George noted that friendships had developed between co-op team members from different schools that probably wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.
Three of the half dozen or more coaches of the co-op team were present for the meeting Monday night. Head coach Justin Goodrich was joined by Derek Joy and Bob Buffington. All have ties to the Seneca School District.
At one point, George asked the coaches if they had witnessed any of the inappropriate jokes. Goodrich said he had received a call from athletic director Erika Clark about the matter, but had not personally witnessed anything.
Joy said he hated this sort of thing, but questioned what the coaches could do about it.
Boland said that action could be taken against those involved as outlined in both the student handbook and co-curricular handbook. The derogatory jokes were in violation of rules in both documents.
Boland told the board the matter being discussed was not specifically on the agenda and the matter before the board was about approving a continuation of the co-op football team agreement.
Board president Mark Johnson said that the conduct described was not acceptable and would have to be stopped. However, he noted that many people in the school and the community had expressed their desire to continue the co-op football team with Wauzeka-Steuben. He moved to approve continuing the co-op for two more seasons. The motion was seconded and it passed unanimously.
Boland said he would contact Tiffany Lomas, the district administrator at Wauzeka-Steuben to discuss the matter. Boland believes that he and Seneca Athletic Director Erika Clark should meet with the Wauzeka-Steuben District Administrator and Mitchell Cernak, the school’s athletic director. Boland said that together the administrators should plan a course of action to correct anything that might be inappropriate from happening on the co-op team in the future.
In other business, the Seneca Area School District Board:
• approved the low bid of $26,831 from Fillback Chevrolet for an eight-passenger Chevy Traverse to transport students
• agreed to hire Swenson’s Overhead Door Service to replace a broken door
• learned in the administrator’s report that several desktop computers are failing and will have to be replaced
• decided to get more bids for an underground wiring project that will replace overhead wires bringing power into the school buildings
• learned the art department would need to replace a kiln used to fire pottery
• gave the Seneca Area School District Monthly Recognition Award to the SHARE group for the work distributing a record number of holiday food baskets