In an unexpected move on Monday, Jan. 13, Sidney School Board tied a vote on the motion to rehire Sidney High School football coaching staff, effectively failing the motion to rehire head coach Roger Merritt, and assistant coaches Guy Melby, Chad Quilling, Dan Coryell, Ty Graves and Jerome Hoffman. The staff was voted on as an entity and not as individuals.
When the floor opened for discussion on the motion, trustee president Ben Thorgersen said he had reasons to be concerned based on a student survey about the coaches.
“I will say that I think that the comments made by students were a little alarming,” he said. “I think that it’s kind of the same thing I’ve heard and it seems to be gaining ground every year.”
Although the answers on the student survey could not be specifically shared due to privacy concerns, Thorgersen said in years when the football team had a winning record, survey comments were consist with losing years.
“Sometimes you have to listen. You can’t just go with the status quo,” he said.
Trustee David Seitz said he would like to see the start of somebody who is ready to take over the program in the coming years in case current coaching staff retired.
“They’ve been in the system a long time. I just don’t want one day Roger comes to us and says, ‘I’m done,’ and we have five people with nobody else to fill in the blanks,” he said.
Athletic director Chris Lee said they were slowly preparing for that possibility.
“We’re trying to future-proof the program,” Lee said. “We’ve talked to Roger a little bit about what his ideas are for five, 10 years from now. How he sees the program. We’re not afraid to ask those questions.”
Lee said survey answers are seen by coaching staff, and administration discusses responses with coaches.
“It’s out there. It’s a concern,” he said. “It’s something we can talk about and try to build up that culture. It’s not just football either. It’s all the programs. We need to build that culture back up and let these kids have fun in a place they like to be.”
Trustee Randy Iversen said they take the recommendation of Lee seriously.
“It’s all of our concern, to be honest with you. We rely on you especially to make those decisions,” Iversen said. “We’re not here to make those decisions for you by any means. We’re here to talk about it.”
In a 3-3 vote, the motion to rehire Sidney High School football staff did not pass, contrary to the recommendation of Lee. Voting against the motion to rehire were Ben Thorgersen, Craig Steinbeisser and Kelly Dey. Voting in favor of the motion to rehire were David Seitz, Randy Iversen and Lisa Gorder.
The board addressed the rehire of volleyball coaching staff, which includes head coach Jillian Stanek and assistant coach Amber Gabel. Lee recommended the rehiring of the staff.
“Again, some of the comments from the students are concerning, no doubt about it,” Thorgersen said. “I think that volleyball is moving in a good direction, performance-wise.”
Trustee Kelly Dey agreed there were growing concerns.
“I think that coupled with issues from the last season and last year’s season, I’m very concerned,” Dey said. “I’m all for giving chances and wanting to see a program grow, but I’m greatly concerned.”
Lee asked what the concerns were specifically and Dey replied she couldn’t address them specifically in a public meeting.
“My door is always open for concerns,” Lee said.
“I’m aware of that,” Dey said.
Seitz said he has a daughter in the system and thought the coach did a great job with the girls she had.
“She’s a young coach. Just like most of us, there are some things we’ve done when we were younger maybe wish we could have taken back or done differently,” Seitz said. “I think she has a good, positive group of girls coming up. I hear good things about them.”
Seitz praised Stanek for her knowledge of the game and said the younger grades coming up are eager to play.
“Sometimes when we don’t like what’s going on, the one thing I always tell my kids and my wife is be careful what you wish for,” Seitz said.
Principal Brent Sukut said the coaches have put in a lot of time in the off season.
“That’s what it takes to start building a program,” Sukut said.
The board voted 5-1 in favor of rehiring the volleyball coaching staff.
In other news
The board voted in favor of moving kindergarten over to West Side School and third grade to Central School starting next school year, 2020-21. West Side will then house kindergarten through second grade and Central School will have third, fourth and fifth grades.
Coaching staff for cross country and golf was rehired by the board, with both programs receiving praise from board members for performance and student involvement.
A calendar for four-day school weeks was approved by the board under the agreement if the district wasn’t ready to move into the four-day schedule by March, they would pull back on the plan. Teachers will still work the same 1,395.6 hours they worked this school year. Total student hours are 1,091.85 hours.
Jon Marker was sworn in as the seventh Sidney School Board trustee and will have voting power as of the next meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, a 7 p.m.