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K-P PARENTS URGE BOARD TO DISSOLVE SPORTS SHARING WITH RIVER VALLEYRV feels ‘unwelcome’ to play baseball

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A packed school board meeting had an air of palpable discontent in Kingsley on March 11. Over 100 parents and community members turned out for a discussion on the shared sports agreement between that district and River Valley. 

The decision to share all junior high and high school sports between River Valley and Kingsley-Pierson districts went into effect for basketball season after being approved by school boards on Oct. 16 and Oct. 9 respectively. 

At the time, Scott Bailey, the shared superintendent for both districts, said both school boards agreed to merge because of enrollment, as a way to improve dwindling participation in some sports.

The decision had aroused ire from stakeholders in both school districts last fall. Mixed reports have come out of the experience, with some feeling that the students have really enjoyed the opportunity to play with one another, while others claim that students have reported feeling unwelcome or as one father noted, “an afterthought.”

Board President Jason Collins stressed that it was the goal of the K-P school board and administration to make the district “inviting” to all. He also stated that “This is just for sports. There has been no discussion or planning on whole-grade sharing with either district.”      

Overwhelmingly, attendees expressed their disbelief and unhappiness at the way the sharing agreement was arranged. Nine members of the public addressed the board and expressed their thoughts and concerns about the sharing arrangement. 

Casey Koch stated that he had been told that “Kinglsey owns all the cards in this deal. It will not affect Kingsley at all other than our 1A status. I was told directly that the one sport that it will most likely hurt the most is boys basketball. But most importantly, I was told this was a done deal. River Valley will have the meeting to approve it. I was told they already have the votes and it’s done. Just like that.”

Koch reminded the board that they were elected “to represent us and make decisions that are best for all of our kids, not River Valley’s.” He added, “K-P is not ready to be KPRV. Do the right thing. Tear it up.”

Koch’s sentiments were echoed by others who complained about “dark of night” decisions, not having been consulted or given an opportunity to provide public input before such a major decision was made. This lack of communication and transparency caused plenty of frustration as parents, students and coaches felt that the board and administration were not willing to listen or work together. 

The ugly truth of high school athletics has reared its head amidst this controversy, with many critics of the sharing agreement expressing concerns that moving into 2A from 1A in boys’ and girls’ basketball and football from eight-man to eleven-man will make it harder for teams to earn a spot at state championships. Kate Pratt, a parent and former school board member, called such trips to state “memorable” when they’ve occurred in the past and “the ultimate reward,” but stressed that she preferred her children to place more value on how they treat others and how they are viewed as an individual. 

Taylor Doeschot, a parent and baseball coach at Kingsley-Pierson, has drawn fire from River Valley parents after his comments at this meeting. He stated that “our administration and our board has failed in the ability to separate what is right for River Valley and what is right for Kingsley-Pierson. Let’s be clear. Both schools are not equal.” He chastised the board and administration for making a decision to merge without any input from “the community, coaches, students, or anybody.”

Doeschot spoke at length about K-P’s sports programs, indicating his belief that there was not a single sport K-P was in jeopardy of losing, noting that there is a varsity and jv team for every sport and many of them have had winning or successful seasons in the last 10 years. Comparatively, Doeschot recognizes that River Valley is not as fortunate. However, he doesn’t care.

“Are we here to do what’s best for River Valley? We are not. We’re here to do what is best for Kingsley-Pierson.”

Doeschet, who also serves on the youth football board and is president of the K-P Little League, noted that last summer K-P had 196 kids participate in Little League. To him, that is an indication that the future of sports for the district is healthy enough to nullify any argument for bringing in students from River Valley district.

As a shared superintendent for both districts, Scott Bailey was also a target of community discontent, as it was stated repeatedly that K-P is not responsible for fixing River Valley’s problems. Doeschet read a statement by former K-P football coach Jeff Olson that accused Bailey and the board of selling out the K-P students and community “to bail out River Valley.”

Despite the reassurances from Collins at the beginning of the meeting, many who addressed the board indicated that they have been informed otherwise about the potential for whole-grade sharing. “I was told this is a dating stage of the relationship,” explained Lance Howe, K-P’s varsity boys’ basketball coach. “By the time the two year sports sharing contract was up, we would like to be in an all-grade sharing.” 

Howe continued “I ask the board to do what’s right for the Kingsley-Pierson student athletes and ask what advantage did the Kingsley-Pierson athletes gain from this?” Howe indicated that he had 16 players this season, only three from River Valley and he expects maybe two from River Valley next year. He believes that their program was doing very well without adding the numbers from River Valley and urged the board to “admit you made a mistake.”

The school board, who per Robert’s Rules of Order would not comment or respond to public comment, did include discussion time on the agenda for the sports sharing agreement. Pierson representative Phil Herbold stressed that there was no secret agenda and explained that the agreement was part of a “good faith gesture on our part to be good neighbors.” 

Herbold admitted that the arrangement was something the district needed to do, but urged the community to consider the future and a potential drop in their own participants. “That’s the momentum we’re trying to manage before we’re in the position of River Valley where we’re going next door, basically asking to play.”

Board member Lindsay Smit believes that different problems crop up when you have an excess number of players.  A coach and teacher herself, in her experience she would rather build up a program from younger players than have so many that “you don’t even have time to play some of them.” She also indicated that it was a question in her mind “where loyalties lie,” meaning whether the softball coach and volleyball coach, both of whom are now from River Valley and have worked with those girls for some years previously, will be fair to girls from K-P.

Ultimately, the board tabled any decision on the sports-sharing agreement, choosing to gather more information and facts before their next meeting on April 8. Herbold expressed distaste for the idea of backing out of a two-year agreement early, but remained unsure how to satisfy Kingley-Pierson stakeholders. Regardless, the upcoming spring and summer sports will continue to utilize the sharing agreement.

Bailey provided estimated participation numbers for spring/summer sports with students from River Valley, Kingsley-Pierson and Woodbury Central (they have a sharing agreement for track).

Boys track — 5 Kingsley-Pierson, 2 River Valley, 14 Woodbury Central

Girls track — 9 Kingsley-Pierson, 8 River Valley, 20 Woodbury Central

Girls golf — 10 Kingsley-Pierson, 2 River Valley

Boys golf — 15 Kingsley-Pierson, 0 River Valley

Softball — 36 total. 23 Kingsley Pierson, nine River Valley (indicated that four others are listed, but Bailey was not sure where they were from or if they were still participating).

Baseball — No numbers to report although Bailey did comment that he has been told that River Valley feels “unwelcome” to play baseball.

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