Linn R-2 Board of Education ends fall baseball

By Edward Gehlert, Staff Writer
Posted 7/27/22

After a lengthy discussion, Linn R-2 board members voted 3-2 at their July 19 meeting to discontinue fall baseball immediately following a lengthy discussion.

Board President Dr. Shawn Strong …

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Linn R-2 Board of Education ends fall baseball

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After a lengthy discussion, Linn R-2 board members voted 3-2 at their July 19 meeting to discontinue fall baseball immediately following a lengthy discussion.

Board President Dr. Shawn Strong asked Superintendent Bob James for his thoughts. 

“First, I think we need to do anything where we can support programs where young people can have an opportunity to engage as much as possible,” James replied. “I use that as a guide post. Quite honestly, I am probably a baseball fan in my adult life way more than I have been a football fan. I tend to kind of parse this out practically. A few things have been weighing on me, as you can imagine, as soon as I was announced as the incoming superintendent. Fall baseball actually became a part of my life. 

James noted that football has been established as an existing program at Linn R-2. “In a lot of the conversations that I’ve had in the community with parents and players, sometimes I get the feeling that we’re still kind of teetering on whether or not football is going to be a thing,” James said. “I think we’ve got to firmly establish that from here on out, we have a football program. We have a vested interest in seeing it successful. We can’t just not think about that. When thinking about baseball, we also have a really established baseball program.” 

James likened the situation metaphorically to a practical idea. “If we’re eating dinner and we have a buffet of food, and baseball has been to the buffet, and they’ve eaten once, and we’ve got football that’s fixing their plates, we’ve got to think practically about how we send baseball back to the buffet before football is able to settle out its place,” James said, adding this comparison has resonated with people he’s spoken to about the situation. “If we had an unlimited amount of resources, I don’t think that would be as big a question, but we have a finite amount of resources.” 

James added that he doesn’t believe many, if any, baseball players are going to play football this year. “Maybe one or two, and I think there is a myriad of reasons for that,” he said. “I think part of it is contact sports aren’t for everybody. Being a multiple-sport athlete isn’t for everybody. I think it would be naive to believe, just based on my discussions, that this issue is influencing whether some kids play and some don’t. I think some kids are playing because it’s gotten so much attention; I’m talking about football. I think some aren’t because it’s gotten so much attention. I do think it’s weighing on kids.

“Do we feel comfortable with the buffet metaphor?” James continued. “I think we’ve got to consider if we’re going to take a phasing-out route, kind of a one more year of baseball. We’ve got to ask ourselves the question: Will we be in any different situation next year than we are this year? We’ll still have passionate students that want to play baseball as much as they can. I get that. I’d pay a lot of money to go back and play a high school baseball game. We’ll still have very passionate parents that want to see fall baseball again. 

“I’d ask myself, what if we had another year of very successful fall baseball? That may or may not be directly relative to having fall football. What if we go deep into the spring? Would that make next year’s decision any easier or more difficult than now? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’ve made a lot of calls to people who know a lot more than me. Coaches that have been in the game for 20 or 30 years would 100 percent agree that based on our resources — I’m not just talking about money; I’m talking about the number of kids we have and the size of our school — we would be a very rare bird having fall baseball and football. 

“We just don’t have the athletes or the size, or scale, to really accommodate both,” James said. “But we have both, and so we’ve got to make a decision that makes every possible way that our students can engage in extracurricular activities possible.”

He told board members the big question is whether to kick the can down the road.

“f we do, what’s our return on investment not making a decision one way or another?” James asked. “I don’t know if that’s what you were asking, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about.”

Dr. Strong confirmed he wanted the superintendent’s analysis.

“Where will they practice? Play?” asked board member Naomi Klouzek. “I thought someone said they wouldn’t let them use the city park?”

“I don’t know that specifically, but I think Coach Campbell’s got a plan for that,” James responded. “Just based on what he’s expressed to me, I think he’s interested in making it happen one way or another.”

“My thoughts on this,” said VP Hannah Swann. “There are a lot of sports stars out there that played a variety of sports when they were younger. I think when schools offer a variety of sports to students, they really increase the chances a student is going to find something they like doing and something they are good at doing.”

Adding football, despite costs and other concerns with limited resources, offers another opportunity for physical fitness. “Our goal should be to get every student engaged in some sort of physical activity, some sort of physical education, some sort of extracurricular activity,” Swann said. “It has great benefits for students. I think we should prioritize making sure that we have coaches and resources in place to make sure that we have a regular season for each team, and we should prioritize that over having a second season for any sport.

“Honestly, for any sport, it’s going to take time in the summer; it’s going to take time in the off-season,” Swann continued. “Most parents and students find ways to put in that time or find other opportunities to play with a traveling team or club team, and it doesn’t have to be school-sponsored. That’s kind of my position on it.”

“I’ll be honest, I’m kind of torn,” said board member Jamie Bish. “I feel like I’ve heard two different sides of this from every which way. Having a child that is going to play football and was playing baseball — he’s kind of stepped back because of football and because I don’t think it’s his forte. I guess, you know, I hear no other sport offers a second season, but I think the confusion there, at least for me, is that there are other teams doing items outside of school which to me confuses the public that there is a second season. Is that wrong? Like basketball, I know that they were doing a lot over the summer where they were meeting together. I think it was almost thought of as a school-sponsored event, but I’m hearing it wasn’t a school-sponsored event. The coach was rallying up the kids and getting them to be a team, but it wasn’t through MSHSAA.”

“Under MSHSAA guidelines on how you can coach your kids in the off-season, you get 20 contact days where our school personnel can coach our school team,” said board member Brett Phillips. “So, that’s what that is. He’s taking them to tournaments and games.”

“But it’s not tournaments held by other schools necessarily?” Bish asked.

“It is, but it’s just simply part of everybody’s summer program,” Phillips replied.

“So, I guess my question would be, is there something of an opportunity there for baseball? I don’t want to take away an opportunity for kids not to have a sport that they want to enjoy,” said Bish.

“Baseball gets the same 20 contact days that the coach can work with the kids,” said Phillips. “That’s what we ought to have. We ought to have all of our people putting in that time.”

“So if the baseball coach chose to do something similar to that where it wasn’t necessarily sponsored thorough the school, but it was offered?” Bish asked. “Is that something that could be considered long term? For me, personally, it’s all about the kids.”

“In the past, they did,” said Swann. “In the circumstances we’ve had in the last few years where we’ve lost our baseball coach every year, it’s kind of gotten mixed up and messed up. So, they haven’t had contact the last two summers because of a new coach coming in. The one coach wanted to have fall ball. That’s the only time we ever had it was last fall, or whichever it was. So, this would be the second season of fall ball.”

“But if it wasn’t a school-sponsored event, couldn’t other individuals assist with coaching it?” Bish asked. “I guess I’m just saying I’m torn both ways. I want kids to stay involved. I want them to stay active. I feel like if they’re doing that, their grades are better. They grow up to be better, more responsible adults. I mean, there are so many different benefits, but I agree, if there is not any other sport right now for Linn that is offering that opportunity, then why are we giving the benefit to baseball versus no others? I hate to take something away that they love, but I also feel they should have the opportunity to do more if they want to. I don’t know that I have an answer.”

“Mark, do you have any comments?” Dr. Strong asked board member Mark Baker.

“I have talked to several parents about this,” Baker said. “I just am not — I was never too keen on a sport having two seasons. I guess I have a few questions myself. I don’t know him; I haven’t met our new baseball coach yet. What exactly are his thoughts on it? I know there is a limit to how many male and female sports we can have. We’re not jeopardizing anything in that, are we? Do we have too many male sports?”

“We’re tied because we have volleyball,” answered Phillips. “That makes it legit. I think it’s a special circumstance because it’s an extension of a season. Maybe I’m wrong on that.”

“What are the new coach’s thoughts on it?” Baker asked.

“Most of his thoughts were in the letter we included in the board packet,” said James. “Essentially, he advocated that in his first year, it would help him a great deal to have a transition year where he had fall baseball to kind of get the program set before the actual spring season, but he was very adamant that it would be a one-and-done. That fall baseball, as long as he would be here, would not be in perpetuity. Special circumstance, and only to give him some spool-up time, so to speak, to get the program where he would like it to be going into the spring season.” 

“Even if we don’t have a regular fall season, he can potentially still meet with students or have contact days. Like have a camp or something,” said Swann.

“He can meet MSHSAA guidelines in the fall with regard to his contact with the kids,” said Phillips. “It is different from the summer. But, the answer is yes.”

“For discussion purposes, and I think this is important, if it is an option, then Coach Campbell is already behind in planning and establishing practice times and a schedule,” said James. “Considering his other coaching duties, he will need to be ready for that.”

James noted that Campbell will also be coaching junior high basketball. Dr. Strong asked if the seasons would overlap.

“You can move them around a little bit,” said James. “I think it overlaps by less than a week right now. It’s doable.”

“Games or just practice?” Dr. Strong asked.

“Games,” said James.

“Games actually overlap? That doesn’t sound great,” said Dr. Strong.

“It’s not ideal, and we don’t have another junior high basketball coach,” said James. “Which is what we were planning in terms of taking care of all that responsibility. At one point, we had two, and now we have an opening. So, he doesn’t have a backup.”

“I’m okay with doing it this year,” said Klouzek. “The one and done because of the circumstances. The coach needs to get to know them. I agree that it’s not fair that the other teams don’t have a second season. They all get it done in the summer, and, in this case, that wasn’t possible. For next summer, they can do summer league or something. I’m not personally convinced that having one more season of fall baseball … I don’t even know how we could practically do it, and next year we’re going to be having the same discussion again.”

“I can definitely see, for the students, the difficulty there,” said Dr. Strong. “They did it last year. We had a good run. Did that cause the run, not cause the run, or have any impact whatsoever?”

Dr. Strong added that he leans toward a multi-sport approach. “Everything I’ve read says multi-sport; don’t play one sport,” he said. “I’m kind of leaning towards more what I consider the experts say on it. When we have football this fall, I think we get on board 100 percent and support football. When baseball comes around, we all get on board, and 100 percent support baseball. I really think that’s a clear message that I hope the entire district will see.”

Dr. Strong informed the board he would entertain a motion. “It does seem like we need a vote and move one way or the other on this,” he added.

“I don’t know that we can do nothing,” James added. “Considering if we’re not making a decision that leaves the program and Coach Campbell in limbo where he doesn’t really have any structure to plan one way or another. It puts him in a very difficult position.”

“I would think the motion would be do we hire Coach Campbell to be the fall baseball coach?” said Dr. Strong. “We can do that in closed session but we can definitely do that here and if we vote not to hire him as fall baseball coach, that ends it.”

“I make a motion that we don’t have baseball in the fall,” said Swann.

“Was the motion ‘don’t?’” asked Phillips. “Did you say ‘don’t?’”

“That we do not have fall baseball,” Swann confirmed.

“I think if we’re making a motion, we’re going to follow the guidance based on what Coach Campbell had, which would be his support right now of having a fall baseball season for one additional year,” said Bish. “For this remaining year.”

“I do like the idea of expanding that motion to say one existing year and we don’t have to do this again next fall,” said Dr. Strong. “This would be the year and we’d say after which there would be no more fall baseball.”

“Practically speaking, just because we have it for one more year, does he actually have the time to do it?” Swann asked. “I get that, in theory, it would be great to do one more season, but practically speaking, does that even work with him coaching basketball?”

“It’s going to be difficult,” said James. “Is it possible? Absolutely, but we’re going to have to be very creative on how we cover our coaching duties. Either our girls’ or our boys’ junior high basketball coach, one or the other, is Coach Campbell, and the other we don’t have.”

“The cleanest thing to do is make a motion to do away with fall baseball,” said Phillips. “That to me, in my opinion, oughta be that.”

“That’s my motion,” said Swann.

“The motion is doing away with fall baseball?” Phillips asked.

“That’s my motion, yeah,” said Swann.

“I guess I’ll second so we can take a vote,” said Baker.

“Further discussion?” asked Dr. Strong. “We have a motion and a second to end fall baseball.”

“I’m just going to say, regardless of what the outcome is, that if we want someone to stay and take ownership of this, no matter what I feel like, this person needs to come in here and do what they can to keep us together,” said Bish. “To make it a team. To make it successful, regardless of what gets decided tonight. No matter what, we’re not giving up on baseball, and we’re not saying football is better than baseball. I don’t feel like we should ever be comparing the two, even though it is up for discussion. I just think if this coach is going to be successful, if he’s going to make it last, then no matter what, he’s going to have to try to figure out a way to make it happen. He has a lot stacked against him.”

Dr. Strong asked again if there was further discussion.

“Does he get a stipend for fall baseball as well?” asked Baker.

“How would that work if he’s doing baseball and basketball at the same time?” asked Bish. “The conflict between practices and games?”

“I would imagine we’re going to have a conflict with basketball anyway because we only have two gyms,” said Klouzek. “The boys and girls high school and junior high all are playing at the same time. It’s going to be a mess. I would imagine the junior high will get stuck early in the morning, and baseball would be in the afternoon.”

A roll call vote resulted in a 3-2 vote in favor of ending fall baseball. Swann, Bish, and Baker voted in favor of the measure while Phillips and Klouzek opposed the motion. 

“The ayes have it,” said Dr. Strong, who did not cast a vote but later told the UD that he supported ending fall baseball.

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