Emotions Soar as Lake City, Creede School Directors Discuss Cooperative Agreement

A surprise vote was made Tuesday evening, September 19, by the Creede School Board to set aside and redraft the basketball co-op between the Lake City and Creede Schools which has been in place since 2011. Only weeks away from beginning practices on November 10, the unexpected action brought strain and high emotion to the Thursday evening, September 21, meeting with Hinsdale County School Board to strategize and hear comments from parents, student athletes and coaches.
Participants in the school’s crowded Commons Room were a contingent of Creede representatives, coaches and athletes who apologized for the timing and manner in which the action had been taken.
Present at the meeting from Creede were Creede School Board members Mark Tiley and Mel Freedle, with Creede School District Superintendent Lis Richard and her husband, Dave Richard, school basketball coach Bob Koets, and Creede high school basketball team member Finn Leggitt.
At the start of last Thursday’s meeting, Hinsdale School Board President Phil Virden quickly summarized the issues.
“What we are addressing here at this meeting is the Tuesday evening board meeting in Creede. They voted to dissolve the 2011 agreement. They have come over tonight with a new agreement for us to review.” This new proposal seemed an unexpected development following the tone of Tuesday’s meeting in Creede, which was attended by Virden and Hinsdale Superintendent Nichols and others. Originally scheduled as a venue for parents and students to meet with the local school board to plan next steps, Virden explained many people present had already signed up to speak their mind. He specified a five minute time limit for each speaker and that students wait until later in the meeting.
Early in the proceedings, Lis Richard, new Creede School District (CSD) Superintendent, addressed the full complement of Hinsdale School Board and standing room only crowd of local stakeholders who are interested in the Lake City athletic program and co-operative agreement with Creede.
Reading from a prepared letter to both communities, Richard stated:
“On the afternoon of September 19, our school board convened for our regularly scheduled monthly meeting. Much emotion and energy had gone into the meeting on that day. As a new superintendent, the single issue of the cooperative agreement between Creede and Lake City has been what most parents and Creede community brought to my attention. I knew this meeting would be unusual. In an effort to gather information, I solicited student input for the meeting.”
Struggling with her emotions as she continued, Richard stating, “I am writing this letter to ask forgiveness from both communities for my grave error in judgment. Although student input is valuable and the school board in our district wants to hear from them, in this situation, it caused much more harm than good. The decision to read the comments aloud in public session was wrong. In just a few minutes, it stripped the students of beautiful relationships they had built in the last seven years. I take full responsibility for that.”
Defending the recent action, she added, “As the superintendent, I can speak for myself and my observations. I observed a board that was endeavoring to listen to their community and school to dissolve an old and outdated document with the intention to get something in place for this year that would better facilitate the current needs of the students. Every board member expressed their love for the students of Lake City and their desire for all of the students to play ball together.”
In conclusion, Richard stated with a serious demeanor, “Again, I apologize that my actions may have caused some muddying of the waters, causing the message of our school board’s actions to be unclearly communicated. “
Superintendent Richards reiterated the original 2011 co-op agreement between the two districts was out of date, had never been filed properly with the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), was no longer relevant and was required to be dissolved before a new agreement could be penned. She advocated that Creede had a long history of promoting their basketball program and enthusiastic turnout for home games was a town-wide event accounting for 3/4ths of participating basketball supporters. Citing community pressure on the issue, Richard noted even in her recent hiring interview, questions were posited regarding how she planned to handle the current “Co-Op situation.”
According to Hinsdale Superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols, a copy of the 2017-2018 Co-Op Agreement from the Creede School District was received at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the morning following the Creede School Board decision.
The seven point agreement specifically identifies it is only valid for the present school year. It is printed in its entirety in the adjoining box.
While the wording of the CSD Co-Op proposal sounds quite definitive, Superintendent Richard stated several times, “This is a proposal and we expect you to comment.” A hopeful note was offered as the Creede Basketball Coach, Bob Koets, clarified he differed somewhat with the new proposal. Referencing the long distance travel required, Koets said, “I don’t think it is reasonable to have practice (with Lake City) every day.” He stipulated, however, “The day before a game, we do need a light practice.”
Comments were made by many parents, Lake City coaching staff current and past, as well as students. The plentiful statements were impassioned and rife with emotion.
Local parent Susan Thompson seemed to speak for many as she stated, “I feel the hurt here really comes from being blindsided by all this. That fact that there was a problem without our really knowing. In hindsight,” she added, “Adults sit down and work out their issues.” Defining co-op from the Latin as “working together,” she encouraged, “The driving force now should be an example of actual cooperation coming together for our kids.”
Kristie Borchers, whose son Isaac, is a senior in high school who has played on the co-op, addressed the gathering several times over the course of the three hour and fifteen minute portion of the meeting devoted to the volatile issue. She referenced a letter she had quickly penned to both sets of school board members encouraging members to calmly sit down, talk about the issues and to focus on what is best for the kids. “Our kids and coaches are just as committed to being on the team as the Creede kids are. There are 60 miles and two passes between us, but all the heart is there! I hope things can be worked out and the basketball program can keep going.” (Borchers letter is printed in its entirety as a letter to the editor) Hearing middle ground discussed, Borchers quickly pointing out the message emblazoned on one athlete’s shirt, “Two schools One Team! “ she implored both school’s leadership to take this as an “identity tagline,” and hold an executive session that would mold a bare bones agreement. “Frame it in a way that benefits these kids.”
Coach Richard Moore gave a tearful statement extolling the hard work and progress of both the boys and girls basketball teams in the five years he has been on staff. “I would hate to see their skills deteriorate. They deserve this. They have worked so hard.”
A bright spot in an otherwise stressful meeting came from Creede’s volleyball head coach, Melanie Freedle. Choked with emotion she described the tumultuous volleyball practice following the decision to dissolve the 2011 basketball Co-Op. “Though it has nothing to do with volleyball,” she described the toxic fallout. “The girls felt like it was a dagger in the back. They felt deeply betrayed.”
Calling their discussion,”A dialogue among leaders,” Freedle revealed how the team worked through the damage. “They wrote the best things about their teammates and read them aloud to the group.” She continued, “Then, each wrote out the worst things. They did not read those, but we took them outside and burned them.” The coach stated, “The girls formed a big circle with arms around one another and did the Hokey Pokey- as they do before every volleyball game. Their motto is, “When in doubt- Hokey Pokey it out!” In conclusion she encouraged all assembled, “That’s what we need to do here, now. Hokey Pokey it all out!”
Lake City basketball team member Cameron Arthur stated, “Our identity is two schools- one team.” He recalled the monumental improvements made on the team in recent seasons. He clearly expressed his disappointment at the timing of the proposal delivered after the unified team had progressed so far in State competition, he concluded that the move had “ruined team unity.” He also objected vociferously to the proposal’s restrictions on coaching staff saying, “This team is like one of Coach Scroggins kids. He has grown it to something amazing. If he couldn’t coach, it would be like stripping away one of his children.”
Among the most eloquent statements offered by local student athletes was that of Meredith Ogden. Expressing acknowledgement of the stated problems, she maintained a wish to remain in the co-op and play ball. Her well-crafted missive was signed by 24 like-minded classmates. “I am completely aware that practice equals results… I do understand to be successful we need to practice as a team to get better: Lake City has put a lot of dedication and time into playing basketball for the Lake City/Creede basketball teams.”
Offering wholehearted support for Coach Scroggins’ work and dedication, Ogden punctuated her advocacy for team identity while promoting joint team achievements. “I believe last year was the best year for both teams. The guys placed sixth in state and the girls, who did not have to play the first game of the post season tournament because their record was so good, lost by only a small amount of points in the game that would have put the girls in district games.” With a strong call for the “two schools one team” tradition Ogden observed, without the co-op, athletes who continue play for Creede would be compelled to transit back and forth at their own expense. A plea for thoughtful consideration was made as she concluded, “Please consider my ideas and thoughts in future decisions because I, a student from LCCS, would very much like to play for the basketball team between Creede and Lake City School.”
Hinsdale School Board member Bill Reinhardt addressed the Creede superintendent. “Basketball practice is scheduled to begin November 10. That is the first official practice. This seems like something that the two school boards should have gotten together in committee and worked out.”
Richard replied that she had been severely misquoted. “…It’s not that Creede doesn’t like the Lake City kids. We want our identity. We want to be a ‘Home Team.’ “There are certain things we are willing to compromise on.” Citing again heavy civic pressure on the issue, she noted recent growth in Creede. With 101 students registered, “This year we do have enough to field a team.”
Both Coach Scroggins and Moore expressed cynicism toward the new proposal. Moore said, “I’ve heard you use the word “proposal” a lot. It sounds nice. But you put that together and it’s what you want. No one reached out to Lake City and said hey, maybe we need to make some changes. When you saw these “trends” and changes, you didn’t reach out. You just had a meeting and came back with this proposal.”
JC Lawrence, who has played two years for the co-op, objected to what she termed “a coach having to apply for a job.” Stating if some of the proposal carried through, “You may have the same players but you won’t have the same team.” Lawrence noted the heart, talent and dedication of his teammates. “It looks to me that you don’t want our coaches or our name. You just want the players.”
In a brave move, lanky Creede basketballer Finn Leggitt took to the podium to address Lake City teammates apologizing for his part in the Tuesday Creede board meeting. “I did not mean to break your trust. We are family. I want you on my team. I just want this team to be better.” With tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat, the young athlete sincerely stated, “It is Creede and Lake City not Miners and Fourteeners. I just wanted to apologize for any hurt feelings. We want you at our games and at our practices.”
Hinsdale board members made several comments on the proposal, noting that there was no need for Creede to assume the entire financial burden of the program. Additional problem areas circulated around coaching issues, team practice scheduling, as well as team name before Virden noted that it was not necessary to hammer out details in a public forum.
Following exodus of the Creede delegation, Coach Dan Scroggins cautioned the local school board repeatedly, “Watch the language you use in this proposal.” Recalling the tone prevalent in the Tuesday Creede meeting, he noted it did not bode well for compromise. “Their community was not in favor of the co-op. Those five board members — they do not want us to participate.” Scroggins stated he was making inquiries for an alternate, “Plan B,” should negotiations with Creede fall through.
Noting the late hour, Hinsdale board member Tara Hardy made a motion to consider and compose a proposal in response to Creede’s document. Rob Hudgeons agreed, adding, “Our counter-proposal will be in the best interest of our district.” The motion passed unanimously.
Virden and Nichols both noted that there would be public input and prior knowledge on the board’s response. According to Hinsdale Superintendent Leslie Nichols, “We now have a great link on our website to our entire board packet – go to lakecityschool.org – District – Board of Education – Minutes and then the link at the very top of that list takes you to a Google Drive folder with all meeting documents. I also for the first time posted the recording of that meeting to the Google Drive folder. It’s a big mp3 file, but I’m optimistic it will work for people who want to listen.”