Parents express concerns over school district’s athletic practices

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About 30 parents convened Monday at a special workshop of the Washington County School Board to express concerns regarding some of the district’s coaching staff and hiring practices, with several parents saying they were considering transferring their children out of the district.

The workshop was requested by school board member Tonka Taylor after he received communications from multiple parents about the issue.

Taylor opened the discussion by speaking about the role coaches can play in the lives of students.

“Coaches are important to me because in high school, my football coach was my only father figure I had,” said Taylor. “… If it wasn’t for him, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now talking to ya’ll. I just wanted to bring everybody together and let ya’ll voice your opinions and explain how the process goes.”

12 parents took turns at the podium to voice a variety of concerns, ranging from allegations of students not having necessary transportation to sporting events, to the hiring of unqualified coaching staff, with some of that staff allegedly “belittling” and “talking down” to students.

Wendy Welch said her daughter was among those to fall in the latter category, a circumstance that ultimately led the young athlete to quit playing volleyball.

“[My daughter] was talked down to and felt like she wasn’t worth anything,” said Welch. “She quit volleyball after her eleventh-grade year. What was supposed to be a great Senior season, getting recognized and all that, she didn’t get to have that because of her eleventh-grade coach and how she treated her.” Welch acknowledged that particular coach is no longer at the school; however, she stated another issue is that qualified individuals are being passed over for coaching positions. 

“Other coaches and teachers are getting overlooked for coaching positions,” she said. “These people have more credentials than those who are getting hired. That needs to be addressed, too. Why are people getting hired who don’t have the credentials when other people are being overlooked who do have the credentials?”

Shanae Boston told board members she has contemplated moving her daughter, a ninth-grade basketball and track and field star, to Tallahassee so she could “have better opportunities.” 

“My main concern is having people in place who can truly cultivate these kids as athletes, pour into them as human beings, and develop them the way that they need to be developed,” said Boston. “But it takes people who are qualified to be able to do that and not people who are just placed in positions because they wanted the stipend. It needs to be people who actually know about what the sport is. For some of these kids, [sports] is going to be their only opportunity besides grades to get into college.”

Among concerns cited by Boston were incidents she said resulted in some athletes not being eligible for district competitions because track meets were canceled due to a lack of transportation.

“If we are going to have these kids in different things, we need to be able to give them the tools that they are going to need to be successful,” she said. “About two weeks ago, the track team didn’t have transportation to get to their track meet, so now, there’s several of our kids who may not be able to compete in district because they have to have five track meets.”

“The coaches are trying to figure something out, but right now, they may not be able to compete because we weren’t able to get them the transportation that they needed to get there.”

Boston suggested the board change the current policy of having each school’s principal be the sole decision maker on the hiring of coaches by adding a committee comprised of the principal, members of the community, local experts in each sport.

“It would help make sure that the person who is put in that position … would be a good fit for the kids,” she added. “I’m not sure if they ever hired a volleyball coach, but the one who was supposed to take the position said he didn’t know anything about volleyball.” Boston went on to say she didn’t want to put her child in a position where the coach didn’t know much about the sport because there was an increased risk of athletes becoming injured from lack of knowledge by the leadership.

“My daughter has the potential the be a D1 athlete,” added Boston. “She is top in the state in several different categories, and I would love to keep her here in Chipley because I graduated from Chipley High School. My heart bleeds blue and gold, but at this point in time, it seems like blue and gold is not showing that love back to my daughter to make me want to keep her here.”

Richard Kunde told board members his daughter is “now on her third volleyball coach” and said in addition to his concerns about the coach not having volleyball experience, he feels hiring procedures need to be improved. 

 “The search for that person who can lead the youth here, something has got to change in that,” he said. “Transparency has to happen. If you’re going to have a committee for one position, you should also have it for the others. We do have some good coaches here, but we need to advertise the positions and look for qualified people.”

Kalonya Bellamy called this sports season “the worst year ever.”

“It should be equal with every child,” said Bellamy. “This has been the worst year ever, especially coaching-wise. They need to put positive people in these positions. I know I have went and talked to the administrators more than once about me trying to help. I’m all about kids; I have coached city league and I’m not gonna put a child down. Every child should be treated equally. Every child.” Bellamy went on to urge board members to follow-up on the coaching hires and “see the outcome, what type of person they are.”

“One of my daughters quit, and she never quits,” she told the board. “She never quits a sport, but this year, she quit … I’m just standing here for my child and for every other child. I’m speaking for all children. I know my kids; they work hard, and they try to listen and be respectful. But when you see a coach that’s putting them down and my children are asking, ‘Hey, what do I need to do to make myself better?’ and they’re not answering, then that says they’re not for the children; they’re just for themselves. I don’t know what ya’ll can do to change it, but if I have to move my kids, I will because I am tired of it.”

Board Chairman Milton Brown told those in attendance that while statute doesn’t allow votes to be taken in workshops, the public input was important and would be considered.

“Don’t think that you weren’t heard or that your involvement wasn’t appreciated,” said Brown. “We did receive what you said, and without you coming out, we probably wouldn’t have known about a lot of what you said.”

The board did not state whether they would consider implementing an athletic hiring committee during the next policy review.

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