Being small-minded in a small town

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Burlingame’s football team was big-time last season and could be big-time again in 2016, but one bad decision could make the town small-time. The Bearcats were 11-1 last season and reached the state semifinals.

“To develop good citizenship.”

It’s the fourth goal outlined in the Burlingame Unified School District policy index. Some of the folks in town might want to refer to that before they make a mistake and run a good coach off.

It’s not every day a school district asks a coach to resign after leading a team to its best season in a decade, but that appears to be the case in Burlingame, where longtime coach Creighton Winters could be out of a job soon.

Never mind that the Bearcats went 16-5 this season and won their first Lyon County League tournament title since 2011 and their first regular-season championship in 20 years. Never mind that Winters has coached in Burlingame for 11 years (for perspective, Burlingame had eight coaches in the previous 13 seasons). Never mind that his family has settled into the community, including his stepson, the starting point guard and an all-state quarterback.

One can only hope there’s a good reason for this decision. Let’s hope it isn’t the reason I’ve heard from several sources in the community, including former players and parents: Winters is too negative.

I know Winters fairly well, have since the Frankfort team he played on competed in the same state tournament as Burlingame in 1994. He has never struck me as a negative coach. Willing to chew on his kids when they need it? Absolutely. Any good coach does.

I’ve also been told that a few parents in town have an agenda. In other words, their kids didn’t get enough playing time. This, unfortunately, is not a surprise. It’s also ridiculous.

Parents are parents. Heck, I’m a parent. You want the best for your children. You want them to have opportunity. I get it. But here’s the deal: Competition is a good thing. It makes us stronger. If you want more playing time, you fight for it. You earn it. I guarantee you most kids do not want their parents whining to coaches and administrators about playing time.

This reminds me of the way the school board and administrators treated John Lujano, the basketball coach and an assistant football coach, in the early 1990s. Coach Lujano wasn’t perfect. He was young. He had never coached basketball. He was learning. He was blunt. He yelled. He cussed. He got mad. He made mistakes.

But, you know what, he was a great teacher and a good leader. He was like a big brother to me when I needed one badly in high school. Unfortunately, he was not liked by the powers that be, namely a couple of key board members. As a result, he did not receive tenure.

Many of the students, including myself, were devastated – and furious. So much so that we organized a walkout. More than 100 students walked from the high school to the district office the day of a special board meeting about Coach Lujano. It garnered enough attention that we ended up on the 6 p.m. TV news that night.

It didn’t matter. The board didn’t change its mind, and Lujano left for McPherson High the next year, where he still teaches and coaches. He’s been on the coaching staff for multiple state championships.

The sad thing about this is Burlingame is on the cusp of greatness. The football team reached the state semifinals for the first time in 43 years last season. The basketball team could make a similar run the next two seasons. Almost all of the kids on those teams are back for at least one more year.

To be in Burlingame during the 2015-16 school year was special. The town was ablaze with excitement. The community rallied around a great group of boys who came so close to fulfilling their dreams. Do you really want that to stop?

Before you make this decision, think about a few things: 1. Do you want lose a coach and family over playing time, err, negativity, and risk losing your all-state quarterback? 2. Do you really think anybody is going to want to coach in Burlingame if you treat coaches this way? 3. Do you want the kids in Burlingame to think this is the way you treat people? 4. Do you want to ignore the fourth goal in our own policy?

Make the right decision, the big-time decision. Otherwise, you’re always going to be small-time and small-minded, and deservedly so.

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2 thoughts on “Being small-minded in a small town

  1. Kent Grieder

    Controversy, or not being able to suffice the needs of a certain enigma? This type of “Coach vs Board” is not recherche’. Having been a School Board member, (with another district), and a Varsity Official for Football and Basketball, I have seen varying sides of this issue, I have stood up for a couple of Coaches, both experienced and new, expressing myself and the citizens views on behalf of the Coaches from the public side and as a Board member. I felt on both sides I weighed the perspective for what was best for everyone in general. There are times the Coach needs support from both the Public and the Board, and discipline applications also, to the Coach and to the Board. Growth and trust, can come from both venues.
    The Board has, in the case of Executive Sessions, some what of an arcane trust to maintain. “What is discussed in Executive Session stays” and should not have intricate details discussed further more beyond that sessions enclosure. The discussion topic is announced and “to protect the privacy of the individual or matters surrounding” then go into discussion and protection of the Executive session.
    This is when the opinions and so called rumors start, and the unrepairable damage begins, to no fault of any one but the perpetrator.
    Some of the actions, being from a group or individual, can be abstruse, and we can inadvertently, “cut off our nose in spite of our own face”.
    Having the opportunity, as a Photographer, to sit on the sidelines and capture many sporting events, you inadvertently get to hear many positive, and….., many, “interesting”, comments from the fans, players, coaches. You continually gain a unique perspective of the flow of a game, how it is coached, officiated and viewed by the supportive fans.
    Therefore, I get to hear and view many of the things Coaches say and discuss with their players and colleagues. Some of which are very heart warming to hear, even just after a Coach has just “yelled” at them, temporarily pulled them from the game to give them an encouraging support talk, and many times see the athlete respond in a positive and successful manner.
    Coaches, players, officials and fans are all, human. During an event, emotion takes over, and all, at times, loose our responsible and moral compass. It is up to each to not remain recondite of any particular situation.
    Remember, during the time of a game, event we must realize that the student Athlete, Coach or Official, are doing the best of their trained ability, don’t openly curse or ridicule them, and encouragement comes in many forms.
    Coach Winters coaches with great emotion, and can be heard very well. I have seen the kids respond and play at very high levels. He is very reactive and understands the game. I have not heard or seen him be punitively negative to any kid. Coaches want the best from the kids and let the kids enjoy the fruits of their labor. Winning comes in many forms, personal best achievements, wether in the classroom or on the field, etc.

    Hope fully, critique and not criticism, can prevail for a cohesive and constructive program at Burlingame.

  2. Ernie W. Webb III

    Way late in responding, but this is a great comment, Kent. And he’s still there (and has the team ranked in multiple polls, including top five in the Capital-Journal).

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