It’s been a long time since I’ve written a sports column, and I’ve written hundreds.
I’ve been in the newspaper business for about three decades, with about 10 years as sports editor and columnist at various California papers, including relatively large daily papers in Redding and Monterey, California.
I’ve done one-on-one interviews with the likes of Jerry Rice, Dusty Baker, Tommy Lasorda, Bill Walsh, Orel Hershiser, Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller, just to name a few, and have had to ask them some tough questions. They were always very professional and relatively polite.
I’ve also covered scads of highly successful high school football programs, including prep teams in Northern California during the senior seasons of guys such as Jack Del Rio and Aaron Rodgers, to name a couple of now-NFL stalwarts.
But I’ve never been treated like I was last Wednesday night by Elma High head football coach Jim Hill.
Hill, who has been coaching at Elma for about 20 years and led the Eagles to state 2A football titles in 1997 and 2001, had assembled a posse of supporters and took to the Elma School Board meeting en masse to protest a decision the board made months ago to play the football team’s home games at Davis Field, despite the lack of a grandstand, which was torn down last month because it was decrepit and had become a huge liability issue.
After the board wrangled with this agonizing issue for the better part of nine months, Hill and his gang, most of whom I had never seen at any previous board meetings — including Hill himself, who I’ve never seen there — show up and expressed absolute surprise and outrage at the decision. They were hoping to get the school board members to change their minds and, instead, schedule Elma’s 2014 home games at Aberdeen’s Stewart Field.
It looks like that may happen at the next board meeting on July 23.
Now, let me state right here, that I think Hill made some very salient points with his passionate plea Wednesday night. And I agree with many of them. But it’s the way he and many of the others in the room handled this that really bothered me.
First off, where has Hill been all these months? These decisions were no secret and written about in length in both The Vidette and The Daily World.
The board formed committees, tried to pass a bond measure to build Hill an $8 million shrine to his football program, which has not achieved the best record these past six or seven years. And when that failed, the board reached out to anybody interested to help come up with solutions.
It all fell on deaf ears, obviously, including those of Hill and his posse, who made some outrageous comments targeted toward the school board and Superintendent Howard King, who was on vacation and notably absent and unable to defend himself from ugly comments by both Hill and Elma Football Booster president Tom Hutula.
The fact that, according to school district officials, King is “out of the country” and unavailable for comment makes me even more suspicious about the timing of Hill and his backers.
Hill alleged twice that King told him that the district had a “slush fund” with which to pay for the demolition of the grandstands. Hutula implied that King made the decision to hold home games at a field with no seating in order to punish the voters who voted against the stadium bond three times. One audience member called the whole thing “an epic failure” by the district, while another called it “embarrassing.”
Where were all these people when all the dirty work was being done? Did Hill or Hutula knock on any doors or do any active campaigning to get the bond measure passed? I doubt it. But if I’m wrong, somebody other than those two, their relatives or assistants and cronies let me know.
This is Hill’s so-called football program and beyond behaving like a guy with a Half Dome-sized chip on his shoulder, I’ve seen little from him when it comes to spearheading or even contributing to any effort to get a stadium built.
Secondly, to make accusations such as they did when people were not present to defend themselves was absolutely gutless and below the belt.
But what bothered me most was Hill’s claim that he was blindsided by the board’s decision from months earlier and did not find out about the details until earlier in the week.
Huh? Does this man not read newspaper articles about decisions that have a huge impact on his program?
Inquiring minds want to know — so after Hill made his impassioned plea to the board, I asked him how he possibly could not have known about these issues which have been discussed at board meetings for months and reported on extensively by local media.
He would not answer.
So I asked again and again, like a good reporter is supposed to do because that’s what we’re (nominally) paid for.
He finally replied: “I’m not going to contribute to your gossip.”
I took the insult and asked the same question for a fourth time. This time, he cussed at me and stomped out of the building.
Other district officials who were nearby just rolled their eyes and one longtime district employees said to me, “That’s just Jim. It’s the way he behaves.”
So, I’ve been raising four kids by myself — thanks to a deadbeat ex-spouse — for the past seven years. Two are out of the house with good jobs and the other two attend Aberdeen High and are both excellent students. Hill reminded of the times they were kindergartners and I’d confront one of them about something they did wrong. Now, my kids are pretty well-behaved, but I remember once or twice when they’d call me something like a “poo-poo head” and stomped off.
Hill reminded me of what it’s was like dealing with a 5-year-old.
Really? This is the guy you want leading your football program and helping mold boys into young men? My two youngest have been involved with all sorts of youth and high school sports. They’ve seen good coaches and bad coaches and there have been some coaches that I’ve really had to bite my tongue with, but I left the decision up to my kids whether they wanted to play for that coach or not.
I would absolutely forbid them to play for Hill. I would not want somebody who behaves more like a juvenile than my teens do leading them into battle every Friday night.
You would think for a guy making more than $70,000 per year ($64,174 in teaching salary and $6,522.61 for his coaching stipend), he could behave more professionally.
During the meeting, one football booster bemoaned the state of the stadium and Elma football program, saying, “We only had three seniors on the team last year.”
Gee. I wonder why.
You see, the biggest problem facing the Elma football program is not a lack of seats, it’s a lack of professionalism and tact.