Evanson Column: Glencoe, Century coach firings curious, to say the least
Life is tough. It's full of tough moments, often tough times, and without a doubt — tough decisions.
Two of our local high schools, Glencoe and Century, recently made hard choices regarding their softball and football head coaching positions. The Jaguars dismissed second-year football coach Sean McMenomy, and the Crimson Tide cut ties with Jason Eastman after four successful seasons at the helm of a softball program that had won at least a share of three straight league titles.
In both cases, per the coaches and Hillsboro School District spokeswoman Beth Graser, "employee-employer relationships" were primarily to blame for their demise. There may be more to it — after all, the information is limited to what the school and district are willing to say. But in a nutshell, that's what the coaches are saying, what the district has said and what the tea leaves are pointing to in the aftermath of a couple of pretty curious decisions.
Is it right? I'm not sure it's my place to say. I'm not party to what has or hasn't gone on behind the scenes, and unless you are, you're ultimately forming an opinion primarily based on what you want to believe. But in light of where the bread crumbs have led me, I can say they feel like mistakes, and ones falling short of the standard we try and teach our kids.
Coaches are more than tutors of sport, they're mentors both on and off the field. We pay them to teach the games we play, to do so with integrity and, outside the lines, how to conduct themselves as people later in life. So what are we teaching them when we fire a coach simply because two parties can't get along?
People are frustrated with these decisions. From the beginning, McMenomy had a number of players and parents looking for answers, and last week when news broke of Eastman's dismissal, social media was abuzz with complaints, protests and sadness for a coach people genuinely loved.
I've spoken to people connected to the softball program — past and present — about Eastman, looking for even a small faction of dissatisfied kids or parents regarding him or the program in general, to no avail. In addition, I sat with a couple recent graduates who, by request, aired the frustrations of many of their peers they'd spoken with in the days since word of his firing had gotten out. They weren't as much angry with the decision as they were sad for the coach and man they'd come to respect being portrayed as a failure to people who didn't know better. Understanding that there was no going back, they wanted those folks to know that Eastman was a coach who'd taught them the game and helped them reach their goal of playing college softball, and a man who taught them how to best navigate the pitfalls of life that will inevitably come their way.
Let's be clear: I believe that both the Glencoe and Century administrations want what's best for the kids. I've spoken to many of these people throughout my time in this job and I've almost always been left with the impression of genuine concern for all students' well-being.
Century Athletic Director Dennis Rice told me last week that he takes the responsibility of the athletic experience seriously, and wants his students to "leave Century High School knowing that their participation in sports had a positive impact on their time at our school." He went on to speak to his personal experience, citing that very impact on him as a teenage athlete, which he said, "reiterates the importance of my current role in high school athletics and the contribution that I, our coaches, and our school can have on a high school student."
These people care, but at the same time, it doesn't make them perfect. They, like everyone else, can make mistakes. They can fall victim to ego, arrogance and in some cases, self-indulgence. But we'd like to think when it comes to the kids, they'd shove all of that aside to do what's best opposed to what satisfies a secondary desire.
In a letter sent to Glencoe softball families following the Eastman announcement, the administration wrote: "I assure you that we have the best interest of the program at heart."
But Eastman's program was winning, the girls in the program are happy and the alumni who've played for Eastman and his staff both at the youth and high school levels have nothing but good things to say about the man no longer in charge.
Make sense of that.
Eastman and McMenomy are gone. Nothing is going to change that. But maybe their final and most important lesson came in the wake of their departures. It's not always how hard you work, but rather how you work in hard times.
One of Eastman's players told me the following last week:
"Jason always told us: You're not always going to like your teammates, but in order to win you'll have to learn to work with them," she said.
Wise words, kids — something even the adults may need to remind themselves of from time to time.