Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I know both sides, but do I know the truth?


From page B1 | June 28, 2013 | 6 Comments

Throughout the land, Davis schools are a bright light. Our local educators and their students have had an impact across the globe, and a stunning majority of our graduates go forth and prosper.

Many of our former Blue Devils go into the Real World with agendas that only make other people’s lives more meaningful.

We are blessed.

In my little niche — presenting community sports, primarily Davis High sports — there seems to be trouble in paradise.

In the past three years, five DHS major varsity-sport coaches have been fired, relieved of duties or left. Two of three who went voluntarily — football’s Steve Smyte and boys soccer’s Ashley Yudin — left in a rush.

Jeff Christian, once the girls basketball coach, was let go in midseason while Amanda Ryan spent just one year as the girls golf coach. Just this week, Julie Crawford, coach of both the girls and boys volleyball teams, was not rehired as the girls coach.

The loss of Smyte and Yudin — even though their “retirements” were expected a year or two down the line — came earlier than anyone thought. Christian, Ryan and Crawford had head-scratching conclusions to their positions.

The last time I chatted with Christian last winter, he told me he still didn’t know why he had been fired, and during his 2010 release he was amenable to having his personnel file publicly discussed in a school board session.

Ryan, who had applied to be the softball coach, was instead offered the position of golf coach. Mystically, Ryan discovered she would not be back for a second golf season when she saw her job posted on the school district’s website.

Crawford, whose variable services agreement (VSA) for girls volleyball was not renewed this week, had received glowing performance reviews from Athletic Director Dennis Foster and had been named her league’s Coach of the Year just last season.

On Wednesday, Crawford told Enterprise Sports Editor Chris Saur she didn’t know why she was not brought back.

In each of these five instances, I have been implored by various community members to weigh in on the “injustices” of the situations: to shed light on the coaches’ plight and to take the school board or administration to task for their actions — or to applaud Foster, the district’s or trustees’ moves in each case.

While I have buried myself in fact-finding about each instance, I know the stories from both sides in each case. But do I know the truth?

One element of athletics (and many other extracurricular undertakings in public schools) is that these coaches serve as at-will employees and can be removed — for no written or implied reason — at the end of a one-year VSA.

The other element that makes getting to the bottom of a story difficult is that our schools use the shield of “personnel matter” to limit or eliminate public discussion. In essence, there have never been specific public reasons given for Ryan’s, Christian’s or Crawford’s removals.

Again, I understand the dynamic here. For the most part, the silence is supposed to work to protect both parties. But Crawford deserves an explanation. Then, if she chooses, she can go public or go quietly.

In the meantime, seemingly uninformed public comment continues.

If I know (after exhaustive discussions) what I believe to be both sides of the story, why don’t I weigh in?

… Because I have a responsibility to our readers to report fairly and impartially our kids’ sports experiences.

When someone tells me something that we’ve designated completely off the record, they’ve been able to rest assured (for the past 45 years) that what they’ve told me is in confidence.

It provides me with perspective on why something has been done (and don’t read into this that in these cases administrators or trustees are talking, er, out of school). Parents, other coaches and classmates tell me things in confidence, too.

Putting here what I find off-the-record will wilt the cooperation and forthrightness of those I deal with daily. That, in turn, does a disservice to our readers far greater than spilling the beans about a personnel matter that is often a two-headed dragon.

But now, with accusations being thrown around (sometimes recklessly), wouldn’t it be a good time for Davis Superintendent Winfred Roberson to get people together and talk about how to better handle coaching (and other VSA) arrangements and the information personnel supplies to these coaches who are not being retained or, in Christian’s case, terminated?

There is a Coaches Handbook, recently reworked by Board of Education President Sheila Allen and trustee Susan Lovenburg, that spells out protocol, VSA length, scope and responsibilities.

Foster is a handsomely credentialed athletic director with almost a decade of experience in the position here and at Natomas High. Let him do his job.

Roberson is uniquely qualified as an administrator to deal with athletics. He’s a former Cal football player who was on staff at Centennial High (Corona) during state-championship football years.

It’s time everyone who coaches in the district begins to feel comfortable again.

The public needs to know that the hiring and releasing of coaches isn’t arbitrary or spiteful.

To avoid any appearance of favoritism, our trustees need to recuse themselves when a specific decision impacts one of their children involved with a team or club or extracurricular activity.

We all need to come together.

To those of you who believe it would be better for me to do my job as an investigative reporter in this instance, I respectfully recuse myself.

You see, I have my heart in this and I really can’t make a call either way.

Besides, do I really know the truth?

— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer at The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at bgallaudet@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet


Discussion | 6 comments

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  • DHS AlumJune 27, 2013 - 10:23 pm

    I can understand Bruce Gallaudet's vague standing on the issue for the sake of the readers and anonymity for community members that speak to him in confidence. However, I think the greater issue I find in reading this article is why five qualified coaches have been "released" or "terminated" without reason or before their time? Ashley Yudin has been a pillar at DHS and in this community and I can only guess as to the reasons that pushed him to end his career at DHS early. Whether or not these coaches VSA's are based on a one year term, don't they deserve the decency of a valid reason as to why they were let go or not asked to return to coach? I think anyone in a "corporate" position would request or expect the same. I believe the bottom line is there needs to be a better checks and balance system within the Board and administration. If these board members really are so "ethical" then why would they not recuse themselves from voting on a coach where their child or child of a friend is playing or hopes to play? Who is ultimately supervising or approving the boards decision? Apparently there is no one which has given them free reign on any decision they choose. In the world outside of petty politics, this would not fly...at least for long.

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  • Bruce GallaudetJune 27, 2013 - 11:20 pm

    DHS Alum: First let me reiterate that Steve Smyte and Ashley Yudin were not "released" or "terminated." Smyte resigned suddenly after meeting with district officials last Friday and Yudin stepped down before this season started, saying: “With the situation at the field (it was unplayable in August) … and last year’s success (his boys won a 2011 section title), the timing just seemed right.” Secondly, I agree with you. The bigger issue in my column is the handling of coaches being hired and released -- and the transparency of the process. Suggestions in the column speak for themselves. I am conflicted by not getting involved; I am in conflict with doing my job effectively if I do get involved. But I'm am convinced it's NOT my place to jump into personnel matters within the school district. My column agrees with DHS Alum's assessment of trustees recusing themselves when a decision directly affects a team or extra-curricular program on/in which a child of theirs might be involved. It breaks my heart to see a man like Steve Smyte leave the coaching ranks. Our society too often bows to the complaints of several at the expense of the growth of the many.

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  • name witheldJune 28, 2013 - 12:29 pm

    sounds like the davis schoolboard is made up of a bunch of clueless idiots. as a so-called progressive community, it appears as if the board is spreading misery equally. what does this say about public education and the morons who are in charge?

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  • Michael TraskJune 28, 2013 - 2:03 pm

    I agree with Bruce when he says that, ".. Crawford deserves an explanation". Coach of the year plus outstanding reviews= fired, it doesn't add up. These coaches put in so much time and effort into these kids that..." Sorry Coach, it's not you...it's us" doesn't cut it. It really is none of our business but it is the coaches' business and their lives.

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  • LarryJune 28, 2013 - 3:13 pm

    Seems like one almost has to be a masochist to be a Blue Devil coach. I wonder how much longer dedicated people will be willing to take on such a job. I think all the coaches mentioned in Bruce's article should collaborate on writing a book called "High School Coaching Confidential." THAT would be an interesting read! Bruce asks "Do I really know the truth?" Well, his blog comment "Our society too often bows to the complaints of several at the expense of the growth of many" shows he certainly does know truth when he sees it.

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  • DaveJune 29, 2013 - 8:10 am

    A news reporter is someone who reports news. Recusal is the opposite of reporting. When you redefine "reporting" to take out the "report" part, you have redefined "newspaper" to take out the "news" part. What is new in this piece is not the fact that the Enterprise values recusal over reporting, but the fact that you would admit so openly what a subscription to your paper does and does not buy.

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