Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Even at OJR, board members must follow rules

KernerThe hiring, rehiring or even firing of high school coaches follows a rather standard procedure in most, if not all, area districts.

Well before each of the three scholastic sports seasons — fall, winter, and spring — athletic directors meet with their high school principals to review the list of coaches for each sport, then submit their recommendations to either the district superintendent or director of human resources. Barring any objections, which there rarely (if ever) are at that juncture, the list is forwarded to the school board’s extracurricular or athletic committee, or to the board in general, for final approval.

That final approval, for the most part, is more often than not just a formality.

But Monday night, during the regular monthly meeting of the Owen J. Roberts School Board, Edward Kerner and Debbie Bissland — the board’s president and vice president, respectively — turned the entire process into a farce. And if not for four other board members, or admirable voices of reason from Rosemary Bilinski, John Dutton, William LaCoff, and Barbara McMeekin, almost a dozen Owen J. Roberts coaches and close to 50 of their supporters would’ve thought they were sitting in on a Kerner-Bissland Two Ring Circus.

The fact Kerner and Bissland late last week decided to remove the list of recommended coaches for the 2009 fall season from Monday night’s agenda is a joke. And nearly everything they said in an attempt to defend their decision drew its share of laughter.

None more than one of Bissland’s responses, “I like all the coaches, and I want all the coaches back.”

Hip, hip, hooray … then why pull their recommendations from the agenda?

“This is a complete travesty,” a high school coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said moments after the board voted to meet prior to next Monday’s special meeting to discuss, and hopefully reinstate on the agenda for approval, the list of coaches for the fall sports season.

For now, though, Owen J. Roberts does not have a single coach for the fall sports season. That means not having one single coach to be part of or oversee the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) approved weight-lifting, conditioning and other related practices or drills that officially began this past Monday.

“Which means our kids, our teams, are already falling behind because every other school has started,” said another high school coach, who requested anonymity.

Owen J. Roberts’ head coaches for the fall sports — Dave Michael (boys and girls country), Clarence Jennelle (field hockey), Tom Barr (football), Ted Snyder (golf), Dave Rhen (boys soccer), Joe Margusity (girls soccer), and Jerry Styer (girls tennis) — were the respective teams’ head coaches last year. They have a combined 105 seasons of coaching those sports at Owen J. Roberts … and all own exemplary resumes.

That is why they were recommended to continue coaching this fall by Dave Strock, the athletic director, and Richard Marchini, the high school principal. And, as Strock noted Monday night, that is why Antonia Cramp, director of human resources, forwarded the recommendations to Bissland — chairperson of the school board’s Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Committee that also includes Dutton and Eric Scheib.

“All seven coaches are very good people, and all seven are very successful coaches,” Marchini said in a brief message to the school board Monday night.

Seven members of the school board recently voted unanimously (Kerner and Bissland were absent from the meeting) to put the fall coaches list on Monday night’s agenda for approval. But Kerner and Bissland last Thursday removed it from the agenda.

Sure enough, when it came time for Bissland’s committee report Monday night, she responded, “I have nothing to report at this time.”

Later, during the portion of the meeting reserved for individuals or delegates to address items or issues on the agenda, Steve Raught — president of the Roberts Education Association — spoke to the board.

“The administration provided the (school) board with their recommended list for all fall coaching positions,” Raught said. “At this past Monday’s (June 15) Personnel Committee meeting, the entire coaching list was moved by Mr. Dutton to the full board for approval. There were no objections.

“That meeting was attended by two of the three members of both the personnel and extracurricular committees. In fact, only Mr. Kerner and Mrs. Bissland were absent. Yet the fall coaches are not on tonight’s agenda.”

Raught, who drew resounding applauses from the crowd, wanted to know who made the decision to remove the coaches list from the agenda, when they did it, and why they did it. “Perhaps Mr. Kerner or Mrs. Bissland could provide us with a rational explanation,” he said.

Neither did.

McMeekin was displeased, to say the least, and very upset when neither Kerner nor Bissland were able to provide any “rational explanation.”

“Once again, the incompetence and ineptness of this board is now going to be a detriment to our children,” McMeekin said. “We’re a board of nine, yet two can decide what goes on the agenda?”

What really irked Dutton was the fact Kerner and Bissland removed the coaches lists from the agenda, but the Extracurricular and Interscholastic Athletic Activities Committee had a recommendation for the approval of a weight room supervisor on the agenda — a position that previously didn’t exist because coaches handled those responsibilities, and handled them without any additional salary.

“We’re being asked to hire someone so (the student-athletes) can utilize the weight room opportunities,” Dutton said. “The coaches did it before, so now there’s a need to hire someone?”

Marchini — the high school principal, remember — admitted he wasn’t even aware of the recommendation for a weight room supervisor being on the agenda.

“I just know that our coaches put in a lot of extra time, that they work for the benefit of our kids, and we haven’t even hired them yet,” Bilinski said. “It’s very important to get these coaches hired as soon as we can.”

Dutton made the motion to meet just before next Monday night’s board gathering to discuss putting the recommendations of all fall sports coaches back on the agenda — including the weight room supervisor position — so a vote can be taken during the regular meeting. Scheib seconded the motion, and it was approved.

“Let’s just hope that list (of coaches) gets back on the agenda next (Monday) and gets approved,” the mother of an Owen J. Roberts student-athlete said.

“We have a couple of board members, perhaps, with personal agendas,” added the father of two Owen J. Roberts student-athletes. “They’re worried about one, two, or three kids, maybe their own kids? They’re supposed to be concerned about all of the kids at Owen J. Roberts.”

They are indeed supposed to.

Strock, Marchini, and Cramp, as well as Superintendent Dr. Myra Forrest (fired very late Monday night) and seven members of the school board — Bilinski, Dutton, Eugene Endress, Karen Zelley, LaCoff, and McMeekin — showed that concern from the very beginning on this issue. Now it’s time for Kerner and Bissland to do the same.



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