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

By From page B1 | June 28, 2013

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 [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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