MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

July 21, 2013

Someone needs to calm the MPS waters

These are fractious times in Muskogee athletics.

Not on a field, but behind closed doors and in, as was showed at last week’s school board business, open meetings.

Several concerned taxpayers showed up, as part of the agenda, to voice their concerns about the district’s decision to remove athletic director Bobby Jefferson from his assignment as head wrestling coach.

They came with their homework — that while some Class 6A schools have full-time athletic directors, not all of them do. Bartlesville, Midwest City and Sapulpa are ones that don't. So is Muskogee, where Jefferson had an assistant athletic director handle duties while wrestling was in session.  

Some spoke, others applauded.

No action was taken. It wasn’t necessary. Taxpayers can ask to speak as part of the official proceedings. It didn’t mean there was going to be a reconsideration.

And there wasn’t.

But the dust hasn’t settled.

Friends of Jefferson and concerned citizens paid for space in this paper to voice their concerns this past week.

On York Street just south of Chandler, one local taxpayer’s passion for the issue has led him to set up a flashing sign asking that superintendent Mike Garde be removed from his duties.

Indeed, fractious times.

Amid it all, a decision has been made, backed by board approval. Jefferson will handle full-time athletic director duties and no wrestling duties. He doesn’t like it. I wouldn’t either if I lost several thousand dollars in salary doing what I felt like I’d been handling for a decade.

It capped a year of tension since Jefferson won an appeal last July on a dismissal for allegations regarding oversight of inaccurate time sheets submitted by coaches overseeing a summer sports program.

Fractious, indeed.

It’s time to end it.

Because, in trickle down form, it stands to impact coaches and kids who have enough trouble battling the big, bad, 6A bullies of the world, full-time ADs or not.

And it would be best if all involved could work together to do this.

Dan Jefferson, his dad’s assistant head coach, remains to be interviewed for the wrestling position. Wrestling isn’t broken. Bruised by the recent goings-on, it’s still one of the best programs MPS has in beating those bullies, holding the last state championship trophy on the boys side.

If there has to be change, the easiest transition for the team would seem the most prudent. But in an open job, others have to receive fair consideration.

This isn’t a direct endorsement of the younger Jefferson, only a point of consideration when considering change. It’s hard to look at wrestling and see how it has struggled under this staff, regardless of how it fits in the total athletic picture.

But  I’ll allow the system to decide how much of a consideration that is.

If it isn’t, and an outsider comes in, does Dan Jefferson remain an assistant coach? A teacher?  What we often forget at this level is that high school jobs are more than just coaching.

I will say this: I’d have trouble seeing how a tweaked athletic director would be able to handle all of what’s happened over the past year — right, wrong and otherwise — then deal with a dismissed son.

I don’t know if I could, but it’s not my job.

Would it be too much change to stomach? I’m not the one to answer that.

But, perhaps, it doesn’t have to come to that.

There is another way, and it may be the most challenging but also the most rewarding.

Reconcile.

How about both Garde and Jefferson locking themselves in a room, away from the ads, away from the flashing signs, and talk it out? Try to find a point of reconciliation in this matter?  

The tension of a year is more than enough. Things have been done, mistakes have been made, feelings have been hurt, money has been lost.

Why endure more?

Find a way to get on the same page. That might require that everyone loses a little, but no one gains more than the other.

Any other administrators that have been in the fray, join them if necessary.

Likewise for the elected board, which may or may not face some wrath on this issue at the next election. If an additional meeting needs to happen, get a bigger room and lock the door behind you. Board members oversee the work, but should allow people hired to do jobs to do them without micromanaging.

Ideally, the athletic director needs to be the salesman for the whole program, and in that respect, to catch up with the full-time AD schools, maybe the superintendent has a point. But assure the athletic director has the room to do his job, as well as the coaches.

And build trust — two-way trust.

I remember Ron Lancaster once telling me how Muskogee could be a Jenks. Give the people you pay to do the job the tools they need, get out of their way, and hold them accountable for the results. MPS did that with Lancaster, and he elevated the football program.

That process does work.

It should work at all levels.

There’s plenty of space at the BEST Center to do what needs to be done — to as the MPS voice mail says, “where all decisions are made with students in mind.”

Gentlemen, excuse yourselves and unite. Sing a few verses of Kumbaya from the heart. That’s my suggestion.

Muskogee has enough trouble beating Jenks and Union. It really doesn’t benefit from beating itself up.

Good luck. I’ll bring the coffee.

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