Pike BOE meeting gets heated

Published 11:02 pm Monday, June 15, 2009

Goshen residents packed the Pike County Board of Education meeting on Monday night in opposition of the board’s potential hiring of Mike McCombs as the head football coach at Goshen High School.

However, thanks to a motion filed by a group of concerned Goshen residents, the circuit court of Pike County issued a temporary injunction preventing the hiring of any football coach until a hearing can be heard to address the issues the motion rose. The hearing will be held within the next 10 days.

The motion alleged that Mark Bazzell, superintendent of the Pike County School System and Al Griffin, principal of Goshen High School, conducted secret meetings with board meetings in order to influence them into voting for the hiring of McCombs, a violation of the Open Meetings, or Sunshine, Laws

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“Based on the court order, a temporary restraining order appears to be in order. As such, we will not be able to move forward,” Bazzell said. “However, we will vigorously defend claims in there related to allegations that we violated Sunshine laws.”

The motion also alleged that Bazzell and Griffin informed McCombs he was to hold his first football practice on Monday at 6:30 p.m. The board meeting Monday began at 5:30 p.m.

The motion was signed by 12 Goshen residents, among them the Goshen Town Clerk Traci Shaver and Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas.

Despite having only 12 signatures on the motion, the turnout suggested overwhelming support for the prevention of McCombs’ hiring.

“There were a lot of us in contact about this, but we were the only ones that could be here to sign. It was easier for some of us to get here than others. Time was of the essence,” Shaver said.

Most of those gathered were in favor of hiring Robin Snyder, a Goshen resident and coach at Charles Henderson Middle School, as the new head coach.

Snyder’s character and Goshen connections were the points people used to sell Snyder’s candidacy to the board.

“Not only is he a local young man, but he is a great coach and a great leader. He has a mother and father who are leaders in our community. They’ve raised him right. We feel like something we haven’t had in Goshen in a long time is unity and with Coach Snyder, we would have unity. He could bring the community back together. He could bring the young men and young women back together,” said Adam Register, a member of the group that filed the motion. “There is unity now because of this group of people. We’re all on the same page and we all want the same thing. We want what’s best for our children.”

Register also accused the board of denying Snyder the position because of his lack of head coaching experience.

“The only bad thing I’ve heard about Robin Snyder is that he’s not been a head football coach. Everybody in this room had to start somewhere. These board members were not always on the board. Someone thought enough of them to elect them,” Register said. “Robin (Snyder) is everything we’re looking for. We feel like he needs to be looked on as greatly as everybody. We feel like the board needs to consider what we have to say with high regards.”

Thomas also spoke highly of Snyder.

“He’s a tremendous person of impeccable character. The family has dedicated their entire lives to the Goshen community. If that’s not commitment, then I don’t know how you define commitment,” Thomas said.

Thomas also echoed Register’s thoughts on unifying the Goshen community.

Bazzell said the choice was not an easy one.

“I want everybody to know this has not been an easy decision to make, and it has not been a personal decision. It’s not one that has been without much thought. I have listened patiently and politely to every single person that has called me about the football position,” Bazzell said. “Because they have to live with the person day in and day out, I leave it up to the principal. In this particular case, Dr. Griffin made a decision, and I wholly concur with this decision. Again. It’s not personal.”

Thomas, however, felt the decision was an easy one.

“This was an easy pick. It didn’t have to be like this. We don’t go outside the county to elect a sheriff. We don’t go outside the county to elect board members. We’ve tried with a football coach, and it has not worked,” Thomas said. “We can build unity, we can give stability to our program, and we can give our kids what they deserve – a good coach.”

Thomas’ comments were followed by applause from the people in attendance, an occurrence that happened no fewer than three times during the meeting.

Bazzell defended McCombs’ candidacy by speaking of his successes as a coach.

“The candidate of our choices has 21 years of coaching experience. He has about a 67 percent winning percentage. In three years at Geneva, he was 32-4. In those three years, his football teams finished 7th, 5th and 3rd in the state,” Bazzell said. “If you’re trying to hire a coach based on objective criteria, the choice is clear.”

Bazzell also said the crowd had not always supported Snyder’s candidacy for the position, even speaking directly to Thomas at one point.

“Russell (Thomas), I listened to you intently the other afternoon when you were out there in the parking lot lobbying just as hard as you’ve lobbied tonight for me to consider (former Pike County head coach) Wayne Grant for the position,” Bazzell said. “I have had other people in this room lobby for me to consider Coach Kilcrease at Brantley. The people standing here in this room have lobbied me passionately for people other than Robin (Snyder).”

Thomas later denied he had lobbied for Grant to be given the position.

Despite Bazzell’s case for McCombs, those in attendance felt Snyder’s involvement in the Goshen community was enough to warrant their support.

“The only thing that’s been mentioned about the selection of the coach is winning record,” said Joe Wares, Goshen resident. “The thing that’s most important to our youth right now is someone that’s community involved and will help these children develop into adulthood.”

Keith Snyder, Robin Snyder’s father, agreed Goshen needed a coach to be involved in community affairs.

“Since Dr. Bazzell has been superintendent, how many coaches have lived in Goshen? How many coaches have been involved in community activities? How many coaches have been coming to see our kids do this, that or the other? What the people of Goshen are looking for is someone who will be involved in Goshen,” the elder Snyder said.

Greg Price, President of the Pike County BOE, said he saw the importance of more than just winning, but also criticized the outpouring of anger by the crowd.

“It’s important to have a well-rounded person no matter what. I’ve been elected to this board twice, and I’ve been on this board for over eight years.

“We’ve hired five principals and two football coaches. This is the biggest outpouring for any person we’ve hired since I’ve been here. I think the point is escaping everybody here,” Price said.

Following the extensive discussion about the still-vacant head football coaching position, the board went on to approve the hiring of Wanda Corley as the new principal of Goshen Elementary School.

That hiring was not without its own share of controversy.

Shaver, who is also president of the Goshen Elementary PTO, said she felt the board had not taken the wishes of parents into consideration when making the hire.

“We believe interim principal Jackie Hall would be great. Everyone loves him,” Shaver said.

“Everything ran smoothly, and I’m not saying that they won’t with Mrs. Corley. We just don’t think the board took us into consideration when they made this decision. We felt we were mistreated.”

Bazzell said he was pleased to have Corley join the school system.

“We’re glad to have her on board, and we look forward to working with her,” Bazzell said.

The mild controversy over Corley’s hiring was not the end of the controversies surrounding Goshen schools.

Former sixth grade teacher Cynthia M. Price, who is black, appeared before the board to protest her firing.

“I was hired two years ago as a sixth grade teacher, but this past year, I was fired with no reason given. There were three teachers hired after me that were not minorities, and they were renewed,” Price said.

Much like Snyder, Price said she had the Goshen community behind her.

“Well, over 200 people have signed petitions for me to get my job back,” Price said.

“I don’t mistreat kids. I do my job. I tell the kids to stand up for what they think is right even if you have to stand up by yourself.”

One upset parent was there to express her support for Price.

“They can’t even tell people what she’s been fired for. It’s ridiculous,” said Tammie Roper.