Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
AITKIN -- Aitkin coaches are feeling more pressure, and many don't like it.
Many coaches didn't welcome the development of a sports committee at the Aug. 25 Aitkin School Board meeting.
The committee was developed to discuss suggestions and develop recommendations to improve the athletic programs in the Aitkin School District. But many coaches believe this committee is unnecessary.
"I don't want to say we couldn't improve things, but I don't feel we need an athletic oversight committee," said Aitkin wrestling coach Dan Stifter. "I just feel if the school really needed to change the way they do things the school board could do it. We don't need an athletic oversight committee to push for that. I've been here for 12 years and if I think I need something for my program, I will request it."
Head boys' basketball coach Ron Meyer has been coaching and teaching for 30 years. He believes that experience gives him the ability to make the right decisions for his program.
"We have an athletic director and our administration that we have to be accountable to," said Meyer. "I think they are very knowledgeable and they support us. I feel that is the extent of what we need here."
Of four coaches interviewed, none wanted the committee and didn't know of a coach who did. Aitkin head girls' basketball coach Jen Waldorf didn't want the committee but she's keeping an open mind.
"If it's going to be something positive coming from this, that's excellent," said Waldorf. "That's what they're trying to do in a roundabout way. It's not something that coaches want or need to add to the list of duties they already have."
Many coaches thought the committee would seek to remove coaches from their positions. Waldorf's program was one mentioned in an early school board meeting, and she said the committee was formed at the request of parents from a basketball booster. Waldorf said many of the parents, including two community committee members, are parents of girls' basketball players.
"I'm just kind of taking the high road on this," said Waldorf, who is in her third year as head coach and in her fourth year at Aitkin. "I like doing things the way I like to do them. Of course, you're going to be defensive about it. I get frustrated when (a parent's) definition of success doesn't match mine.
"I'm just kind of taking the high road on this."
Girls' basketball coach
"I'm kind of old school even though I'm young. It's my way or the highway. It's a little different nowadays. I understand there has to be some give and take."
The committee stressed that firing coaches is not the goal. Yet, many coaches are concerned about the direction the committee will go.
"What the committee has done is created a lot of tension among coaches here," said Stifter. "I don't think people realize that we don't have tons of people lining up wanting to coach. We had to beg, borrow and plead to fill coaching positions. This isn't making things any easier."
Meyer said he was looking for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade coaches four weeks ago. He's still looking for a seventh-grade coach.
"I know people on staff don't feel like this is going to be helpful," said Paul Just, Aitkin School Board member and member of the athletic committee. "We're going to prove them wrong. There are a lot of naysayers in the community and we hope to prove them wrong, too.
"This is going to be beneficial and, if one positive comes out of it, that's good. If something the committee recommends is adopted by the school board and it helps one child, then that's a success."
On the sports steering committee are school board members Just and Dennis Hasskamp; activities director Jack Gilbertson; coaches Kathy Christie and Scott Miller; and community members Shane Chaput, Kevin Hoge and Terri Mehr.
Stifter was on the committee but resigned after three meetings.
"We're right at that point where we'll see a lot of coaching resignations," said Stifter. "We're having so many problems finding coaches and I don't know if that has anything to do with this committee. I do know it's created a lot of unnecessary stress."
Meyer hopes that stress won't result in coaches leaving.
"We have some wonderful coaches here at Aitkin," said Meyer. "I would hate to see people leave because of a situation like this. The public, out and about, feels that there are people standing in line to coach and that is not the case. It's not that glamorous of a situation."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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