A school board meeting specifically geared toward the new budget turned into a discussion about Kingston High School football, with the majority of speakers during an increasingly tense comment period pushing school officials to hire a new varsity coach.
The Tigers’ varsity football program has officially been without a head coach since early last December, when Jeramie Collins stepped down after seven largely unsuccessful (in terms of wins and losses) seasons at the helm. Because of the timing of Collins’ letter, the school board wasn’t able to officially approve the resignation until January, thus officially beginning the process of finding his replacement. Though the football season doesn’t kick into high gear until late August, as of Wednesday, April 6, some parents and members of the community thought that process was taking far too long.
The wait, some said, was putting football players at risk of injury because they were forced to conduct off-season training on their own.
“We are discouraged, but we understand that it’s a process,” said parent Monique Tinsley. “Since there hasn’t been a coach hired, they were just piggybacking off the baseball team’s workouts. Now they were told that until a coach is hired, workouts will be put on pause. I do see a number of the boys working out by themselves … I feel like if there was some supervision, that they would be able to tell them, ‘You’re putting too much weight.’ Boys will be boys, so it’s a competition. I’m concerned with boys getting hurt before the season starts … There are other varsity players that know how sessions work, but what about the players that are up underneath them that do not know about the workouts?”
An unidentified parent of a son who played JV football last year echoed the sentiment.
“My son is really small right now and it’s important to him,” she said. “He went to every baseball workout. He did this all year last year from January to keep from getting injured. It’s important that we get these kids properly conditioned so that they’re not getting injured.”
The parent added that the focus on football wasn’t just good for some students academically, but it also keeps them out of trouble.
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but when it comes to academics, my son is driven by the athletics,” she said. “He strives to make sure his academics are where they need to be and improve because sports is that important to him. And for most of the student athletes I know that goes along the same lines. It keeps the kids from smoking, from experimenting with drugs, from getting caught up in other things. It’s much bigger than just the game of football.”
Eddie Parker, who grew up in Kingston and played football in the varsity program before playing in college and at the pro level, said people in the community were hoping to get a coach in place to keep student athletes on track.
“It’s not just a powerful football program, but it teaches a lot of life lessons for kids,” he said. “We’re just kind of curious, the community is a little anxious that we’re going to have a coach named … to get these young men going in the right direction.”
During his time as head coach, Collins posted a 24-40 record, with most of the wins coming during the first three seasons. In 2013, the Tigers went 2-7, followed by an 0-9 campaign the following year. That losing streak continued in 2015, snowballing into 16 straight defeats before the team closed out the season with two straight wins. Collins beat out seven other coaching candidates to take over from Tom Loughlin in 2009. Collins’ replacement will be chosen from four final candidates, who Superintendent Paul Padalino said had been recommended to him by outgoing Athletic Director Glen Maisch, who will retire at the end of the school year.
Padalino, who said he expects to have a coaching recommendation for trustees at their meeting on Wednesday, April 20, bristled at the suggestion that the coaching search was taking too long or was not a priority for the district.
“I’m aware of the social media buzz and the impatience,” he said. “I think that my message to the impatient people, I have an elementary principal position that’s empty, I have an assistant superintendent position that’s empty, I have a middle school principal position that’s empty, an athletic director, 18 teachers. So things take time … Our priority here … and I like football probably more than most superintendents, our number one mission is education. So I need to make sure that those positions are filled as well. And I apologize if people are getting impatient, but it will happen.”
But John Perry, a junior varsity football coach, said that the district should have done more to engage the public in the process.
“We’ve waited five months since you’ve gotten the letter from Coach Collins in reference to resigning,” Perry said. “We’ve now sat for five months-plus sitting on this. The basis of what’s going on in the community is gossip. Things are going out there that we do not need. The kids, they don’t even know if there’s going to be a program, based on gossip. Based on non-transparency from the board, superintendent, whoever it is. This needs to be taken care of, and it needs to be taken care of in a timely manner.”
Padalino countered that the district has conducted the coaching search appropriately.
“I’m curious about what the non-transparency is,” he said, during a tense exchange. “We posted a position, it was interviewed by the athletic director, I got the information, and I’ve been conducting interviews. There’s no non-transparency here. We have 21 varsity sports in the Kingston City School District; we have a thousand students that participate. Not once in the four years that I’ve been superintendent have any of those been cut. Nothing in the budget for athletics has been cut. So rumors, or if you want, social media, they can do that if they like, but actually as an adult and as a coach, you should be one of the people saying, ‘Relax. We’re going to have a coach.’…Once again, I could go through the list of other things that we do here, but we will get to it. Football starts in August. We will have a coach on April 20th when I’m finished with the interviews, and that is that. If people didn’t want to just have rumors and maybe asked me, those are the answers I would have given.”