Months after approving a new coach’s handbook, Jamie Forkner, president of the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees, said she and others in the community still have grave concerns about athletics both at the junior high and the high school levels.

Forkner on Thursday outlined a series of issues, some of which she said she has witnessed, including coaches cursing and yelling at kids during games, girls and boys basketball players at away tournaments being in each other’s rooms unsupervised and at least 10 coaches quitting over the last three years.

“I have heard consistently prior to being on the board, and then while I’ve been on the board, complaints about the so-called sports programs here in Del Norte County,” Forkner said. “Unfortunately as a parent who has a kid involved in sports, I agree with all of them that are complaining. I go into Jeff’s (Harris) weekly about a different thing that I hear about sports and nothing’s changed. Nothing’s improving.”

Forkner’s concerns led to a discussion ranging on topics from coach conduct to hiring a new athletics director to whether it’s appropriate for junior high school students to participate in traveling sports teams that go to tournaments out of the area on school nights multiple times a season.

Superintendent Jeff Harris suggested the board either allow the district to hire a consultant who could look at what works well with DNCUSD athletics and what can be approved. When trustees seemed reluctant to spend the money to hire someone from outside the district, Harris suggested the board create an ad-hoc or standing committee that could look into the issue.

The committee could consist of two board members, parents, students, teachers and other community members, he said.

The school board agreed to discuss the issue as an action item on a future agenda.

“I think it’s important to involve the students; I know we’ve talked about it a few times,” Forkner said. “Having somebody, not a coach, not the athletic director, but maybe a teacher they respect, somebody that maybe doesn’t have anything to do with that sport, but they’ll open up to, have them talk to the kids and (ask) OK what’s going on?”

Nearly 1,000 students in the district are involved in sports, Harris said. Athletics at both the high school and junior high school levels have a combined budget of about $200,000.

The athletics director at Del Norte High School is Bob Hadfield, who is also the dean of students, Harris said. Crescent Elk Middle School Principal Paige Swan is in charge of athletics at the junior high school level.

“What we’ve talked about before is, is it the board’s desire to re-think those positions?” He said. “’Cause there’s no real official position, I don’t believe on the junior high side and on the high school side.”

Board member Angela Greenough, who shared Forkner’s concerns, pointed out that as a principal and as dean of students, Swan and Hadfield respectively have other demands on their time in addition to overseeing coaches.

Greenough said she’s also concerned about the traveling teams at the junior high school level, which are often driven to tournaments in parents’ private vehicles. She noted those who don’t have access to transportation because their parents are working are often left out of going to tournaments. Greenough said she was also concerned about a potential liability to the district.

“What happens to that kid who found that personal vehicle friend to take them down to that tournament?” She asked “That parent goes to a school-sanctioned tournament or a school-sanctioned basketball game on a Thursday night in Humboldt and they get in a car accident, who’s covering that? Or they get hurt on the (basketball) court, who’s covering that? I thought we asked people taking personal vehicles for a school event that you got a background check, turn in all of your insurance paperwork and all that stuff.”

Amber Tiedeken-Cron, a teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School who has been a coach, said some of her sixth- and seventh-graders are away at tournaments every single weekend. One student, Tiedeken-Cron said, was stoked because he doesn’t have a tournament this weekend.

Tiedeken-Cron said when she was in junior high, student athletes only participated in the Jaycee tournament and another tournament. There were no traveling teams, she said.

“We need to rein some things in, and also if we don’t want coaches to act like they’re (in the) NCA championship, we need to stop treating the kids like they are with these extravagant, every weekend you’re gone,” she said. “Some of these kids, they got all that cool traveling in junior high, the motivation to get on the high school team’s not as strong.”

If the school board does establish a committee to look into the state of its athletics program, Tiedeken-Cron said there are teachers who don’t coach, who would participate. She also encouraged the board to include community members on that committee even if they don’t have kids in the school district.

Special education teacher Vicki Schaub said the discussion should include other youth sports programs in the community. She said the aggression some coaches in the program showed toward their young players was appalling.

“This is something, I think, as a community, not just a school district, we need to embrace and bring it from the ground up,” she said. “I have never in my life experienced that kind of hostility and aggression toward young, young children when it comes to sports and it does not paint a good picture for our community.”

Although she agreed the conversation about youth athletes needed to be broader, Forkner encouraged the district to focus on its own problems first. She said she turned down a position on the California Interscholastic Federation Board of Managers for the North Coast area because “we don’t even follow our own rules or enforce them ourselves here.”

“How can I be on the board that implements these rules?” Forkner said. “I just want to bring all that to your attention and bring it out to the public because what I hear from the public is we call and complain and nothing’s going to change.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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