The future of cooperative athletic endeavors involving both Creede and Lake City athletes — and particularly the two schools’ joint basketball program — was discussed at length during a three-hour-plus meeting of Creede School Board at the Creede school’s lecture hall on Monday evening, October 2.
Taking part in the lively discussion with an audience of more than 50 Creede area parents, school staff and students was a full complement of Creede School Board members, its chairman, John Howard, and board members Mark Tiley, Melanie Freedle, Damon Gibbons and Eryn Wintz, with Creede School Superintendent Lis Richards. Also attending as audience members were a sprinkling of Lake City parents and students, with Hinsdale School Board President Phil Virden and school superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols.
Sole topic at the meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. and concluded 9:40 p.m., with a several-minute intermission, was the hotly discussed redraft of a cooperative agreement dating to 2011 which allows the two schools’ to sponsor a joint girls’ and boys’ basketball team known as the Creede “Miners” and Lake City “Fourteeners”.
As previously reported, the original 2011 co-op agreement went without revisions and, according to several at the meeting, was never revised on an annual basis and not uniformly followed by either school. Following the co-op’s termination by the Creede School Board on September 19, replacement agreement was almost immediately prepared which, after being received by Hinsdale School Board, was further revised with a counter proposal. It was this counterproposal which was the main topic at Monday evening’s meeting in Creede.
Creede School Board member Melanie Freedle, who also serves as head couch for a girls’ volleyball team composed of both Creede and Lake City students, repeatedly called for the two boards to sequester themselves within a room, “look each other directly in the eye and have a courageous discussion.”
By the protracted meeting’s conclusion shortly before 10 p.m., the “courageous discussion” was in fact scheduled as a joint meeting of the two boards to be held in Lake City starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 4, for further discussion on the cooperative agreement and hopeful resolution. School directors scheduled to meet in Lake City this week are all five Creede board members — Howard, Gibbons, Freedle, Wintz, and Tiley — with Creede School Superintendent Lis Richard, sitting down with Hinsdale School Board members Phil Virden, Tara Hardy, and Rob Hudgeons. A fourth school board member, Bill Rhinehart, planned to attend the Lake City meeting by telephone conference call, per board policy, in a non-voting capacity; a fifth Hinsdale School Board member, Elizabeth Stuntz, is out-of-state and not available for the planned meeting. Also scheduled to attend the planned Lake City meeting was Hinsdale School Superintendent Leslie Nichols.
The October 4 Lake City meeting, with the stated hoped-for result of a new agreement for the 2017-18 basketball season, is to nclude an executive session, requested by Creede School Board member Melanie Freedle, to discuss personnel issues.
Protracted discussions and public comment in Creede on Monday evening concluded with successful passage of amendment to a motion originally made by board chairman John Howard. In an effort at conciliation, Howard identified six areas of “contention” which were addressed in the motion, one of which, allowing Creede and Lake City athletes on the combined basketball team — and without adult input — to decide the team’s name. Several Creede school board members objected to student determination of the team name and that portion of Howard’s original motion was withdrawn.
In making the suggestion, Howard stated, “I have tried to be fair and respectful of opposing opinions and, above all, tried to make the student athlete’s welfare my first consideration.”
The remainder of Howard’s motion, however, did unanimously pass with all five directors — Howard, Tiley, Freedle, Wintz and Gibbons — voting in the affirmative. Those points successfully passed in the motion are as follows:
* coaches and athletic directors from each team to determine when and where to hold practices;
* coaches to be interviewed, hired and supervised by the superintendents of each school, or designated representative;
* creation of an eight-member “Coaches Committee” comprised of both the Hinsdale and Creede school superintendents, one athletic director from each school, one representative each from both the Creede and Hinsdale school boards, a student from each school representing the players, for a total of eight; Howard further suggested that the Creede School Principal, John Goss, serve as committee chairman and vote only in instances of a tie vote. Howard termed Goss an “intelligent and fair-mined” individual capable of overseeing the committee. Among the committee’s responsibilities, as proposed by Howard, will be interviewing, hiring and supervising coaches; determining compensation for each coach.
* the agreement to be dissolved by a majority vote of either the Hinsdale of Creede school boards;
* proposed Coaches Committee to review each schools’ academic/behavior standards and reconcile differences ensuring students from each school meet eligibility requirements.
* cost of the basketball program to be pro-rated based on the number of students from each community enrolled in the program at the beginning of each season; gate receipts to be pro-rated in similar proportion, with Creede retaining an additional five percent for administration.
In making his motion, Creede board chairman Howard said he defined it as “an agreement, I intentionally left out the word cooperative.”
Creede board chairman Howard made several wry observations throughout the Monday night meeting, beginning the session by reminding school board and audience members that the sole purpose of the session was “the best interest of the children of both communities.” He also stated that the first legal obligation of the Creede School Board is to the school district’s parents and children of Mineral County, as well as laws governed by the State of Colorado, rules requisite for membership in the Colorado High School Athletics Association, and, finally, responsibility to a significant number of students from the South Fork area in Rio Grande County who attend school in Creede.
In terms of Lake City, Howard reiterated that local students “are welcome to play on Creede teams regardless of what we decide tonight.”
Howard repeatedly credited the acumen of his fellow school board members, at one point describing them as “smarter than a tree-full of owls,” and concluded the Creede meeting at 9:40 p.m. with the observation, “where else could you have had more fun than tonight?”
In an attempt at brevity, SILVER WORLD will synopsize public comments at the Creede meeting, with a slight emphasis in reporting remarks made by school board members, coaches and staff. As an overview, two informal votes were asked with a show of hands, the first at the start of the meeting and the second, after a number of audience members had vacated, near the meeting’s end. In both votes, a preponderance indicated their support for a continued cooperative agreement between Lake City and Creede: Lake City audience members and school staff unanimous in their support of a new agreement, and mixed comments both pro and con from Creede audience members.
In a summation tally by Creede board member Damon Gibbons, the percentage in favor of the cooperative agreement at both meeting start and finish was 87 percent in favor, 13 percent opposed; 11 individuals at the meeting spoke in favor of the agreement, eight opposed. Of the 11 speakers, six were from Lake City and five from Creede. Lake City residents addressing the board were uniformly in favor of a new joint agreement, among them local parent Kristie Borchers, in attendance with her daughter, volleyball and basketball player Sophie Borchers, who bluntly advised the Lake City and Creede school boards, “I don’t see any reason why 10 adults in a room can’t figure this out.”
Earlier in the meeting, Borchers noted that as the parent of both a senior and junior student at Lake City Community School, she had missed only three basketball games in three years.
Other Lake City parents and school staff speaking at the meeting included Janelle Warren and Rebecca Hall, the latter noting that in her role as the mother of a Lake City senior, “I am resigned to the fact she’s never at home… she’s always at practice.” Hall, and a majority of those speaking from the audience, received applause in urging using data in making any decision regarding the cooperative agreement. “If you take relationships out of the team,” she said, “we no longer have a team.”
Lake City student Meredith Ogden, who plays both volleyball and basketball, estimated that practice and game schedules comprise roughly 25 percent for volleyball and 50 percent of the year for basketball. She urged school boards and staff in both Lake City and Creede, “adults need to act like adults.”
Other views from student athletes attending the meeting included Creede basketball player Finn Leggitt who referred to the fact cooperative play between Creede and Lake City students “is all I’ve ever known… we have to make this work.”
Lake City school staff at the meeting included Superintendent Leslie Nichols who cited a “fabulous partnership” dating back years which has existed between the two communities. Nichols also noted several regrets, one being not adequately welcoming newly hired Creede School Superintendent Lis Richard and the other the fact the cooperative agreement had not been revised and renewed “in a more heartfelt and better-communicated manner.”
In terms of jointly redrafting a new agreement, Nichols repeatedly emphasized, “we’re still at the table… leadership is prepared to continue to work.”
Nichols referred to the “spirit of winning,” noting that more important that numerals on the scoreboard is what is learned by teammates in terms of character, commitment, leadership, responsibility, integrity and making positive choices… “that,” she said, “truly constitutes a win and is what is reflected in this co-op from little schools in the middle of nowhere.”
In her overview on the old agreement, Creede Superintendent Lis Richard referred to the agreement as old and outdated, and not revised since it was originally adopted in 2011. Creede school has a rich history of league basketball dating back 68 years to 1949, she said, “and as long as I am here I promise we’ll have enough to play basketball.” The current basketball program is funded by the Creede district at an estimated annual cost of $25,000. Creede retains gate fees to partially offset costs, she added, also noting that Lake City is willing to assist with costs and funds transport costs bringing Lake City students to Creede practices “over the passes” for an estimated seven players in the current season, as well as paying for overnight costs.
Richard expressed optimism for the continued growth of the Creede school system with a first-ever bus route planned in the future, added curriculum, “great internet combined with a fabulous school.” She noted exasperation with the continual need for greater community participation in running programs such as concessions at games and the school’s booster club which at present consists of just three ladies. “We need help,” she emphasized, “we need people to partner up with us and say ‘we’re with you on this.’”
Hinsdale school board chairman Phil Virden stated he was “so proud” of both communities last spring when the combined boys’ varsity team reached the state finals and finished 6th in the state. The girls’ basketball team is also building “to such a peak and is on the cusp of a great season,” he said. Virden said he was blindsided by unanticipated animosity and referred to termination of the old co-op agreement as a “bombshell” in Lake City.
Alternate views came from Creede school board member Eryn Wintz who said that rather than a “bombshell,” the decision to terminate and redraft the cooperative agreement was well known in advance in Creede and was frequently cited in the hiring of the school’s new administrator, Lis Richard. While acknowledging “atrocious timing” in redrafting the agreement, Wintz was blunt in her assessment, referring to perceived “double standards” which exist between Creede and Lake City athletes.
“Our school,” according to Wintz, “is surrounded by a community that supports us through taxes,” whereas Lake City has been unable to “pass a new school” and “athletics are not a priority.” She also cited disapproval of local coaching, ending her remarks by challenging both boards, “are we able to meet and have a courageous discussion on coaching?”
Board member Damon Gibbons apologized for not adequately preparing Lake City for the “changes which were coming, fellow school board member Melanie Freedle, head volleyball coach for the joint girls’ volleyball team noting that she was not personally in favor of dismantling the cooperative agreement. She openly wondered, however, whether a perceived “fundamental difference” between the two schools might be “I want to win and I don’t give ribbons to people for showing up.” Freedle said she will continue to “fight hard for a level playing ground for all athletes” and “will fight to have people in positions that will make that happen.”
Creede school coaching staff was well represented at Monday’s Creede meeting and, in general, gave glowing remarks to the two schools’ past cooperative agreement. Kevin Leggitt referred to last spring’s state tournament success for the high school boys and noted it was history-making, “it was probably the first time a co-op team ever went to State.” Referring to the joint girls and boys’ team, Leggitt said “I’ve seen a lot that could be better but I’ve also seen something built that we all should be very, very proud of.”
He suggested that by going solo, Creede probably doesn’t have sufficient numbers to field its own basketball team, predicting that when his younger son plays, he may have to join the Del Norte team “We don’t have the numbers, period,” Leggitt said, adding, “we need to put our pride and politics aside and do what’s best for the kids.”
A similar assessment was made by head boys’ basketball coach Bob Koetz who received applause at both the start and conclusion of his comments. In conciliatory tone, Koetz stated that two contentious issues were team practices and team name. In terms of practice sessions, he said that players from both Creede and Lake City should ideally practice together “as much as possible,” although it is neither “necessary nor realistic” to be together for every practice. One or two joint practices a week, he said, is preferable to a Creede-only team.
Continuing in a typed statement, Koetz stated “team chemistry is infinitely more important to team success” and disbanding the cooperative agreement “severely impacts and threatens” the team’s viability, “it compromises their ability to reach long-term potential.”
In terms of team name, Koetz urged the school boards to retain both the “Miners” and “Fourteeners”as important aspect of both communities identities. “The kids,” he said in summation, “just want to play together, there’s no reason to change designation when both the girls and boys’ teams are at the pinnacle of success.
Koetz mentioned dramatic advancement in skills which he has witnessed in players such as Creede athletes Dane Fluke and Colter Simon. “And who knows?,” he added, “the next player to blossom may from Lake City.”
Creede’s newly-hired athletic director, Jim Tillery, was less optimistic, saying he sees the cooperative agreement as a drawback to successfully competing against tougher teams in the state. Tillery openly wondered that if the agreement on basketball is so important, why similar agreements don’t exist between Creede and Lake City for other athletic endeavors such as track and volleyball. He questioned Lake City’s commitment to school athletics, including volleyball which includes Lake City girls in Creede on a regular basis for practice and games, yet only three parents who regularly attend. “It saddens me that not many Lake City parents attend the games.”
In terms of basketball, Tillery stated “some things need to change in order to make basketball better, I’m here to win. We have enough talent right here to win.”