Wauseon High School’s girls varsity softball coach surprised the school board Monday with her vow to resign after being notified her longtime volunteer assistants - one of whom is her father - would not be considered for reappointment.
Reading a two-page statement before a school board meeting crowded with supportive parents, Justine Johnston told Superintendent Larry Brown and board members she will quit her position if Larry Johnston and Roy Norman are no longer allowed to coach with her. They have been her assistants since she accepted the coaching job in 2010.
In her statement, Justine Johnston said: “…I cannot in good faith say that this is right. This job is very important to me, but there comes a time in life when we are called to stand up for what is right, not what is easy…(I)f my two assistants, Roy Norman and Larry Johnston, are not approved, I must resign my position effectively immediately.”
She said her father, who has been diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor, has been fiercely dedicated to the high school’s softball program.
“It pains me to think of having to tell my dad that he cannot come to the softball field and help the team that he has nurtured,” she read.
Following her statement, several parents of girls varsity softball players stood to defend Norman and Johnston.
Norman’s wife, Anna, said the large attendance by parents was meant to show support. She said Norman and Johnston have devoted thousands of hours to their volunteer positions.
Another parent, Lynn Smith, said Larry Johnston has done nothing but help her daughter Ashley become a good softball player. “I guess I don’t know the problem,” she said, referring to his dismissal. “If this is your decision I really need to know why.”
Theresa Pratt said Johnston “does a good job of maintaining not only the self-esteem of our players, but that of others. “Never once has he…done anything to negate the self-esteem of any child. I don’t know why the board wouldn’t want to have him.”
Samantha Norman, a senior softball player and Norman’s daughter, said she won’t leave the team if he isn’t reinstated. “I’ll play, and my season will be dedicated to (Norman and Johnston), because I know they’ll support me on and off the field.”
Brown told the parents the school board took action on the varsity softball program early in the school year. “It was not a last-minute discussion,” he said.
On Tuesday, Brown said that prior to Justine Johnston’s reappointment as varsity softball coach in 2013, she was told she needed different volunteers. He declined to provide a reason.
Johnston said Tuesday she was told her assistant coaches were not even considered this school year for the annual volunteer positions. She said the decision was made during executive session at a prior school board meeting, and “there is no explanation as to why. None of us know of any reason why they can’t coach with me.”
She said Norman and Johnston would have been approved for the positions at Monday’s meeting. The board approved Ryan Yackee as a volunteer assistant softball coach for the 2013-14 season.
Johnston said Norman spoke to Brown and board members Laurie Suntken and Rick Stidham about the decision. None gave him a sufficient reason for not considering him and Johnston as volunteers.
Stidham said he was not able to tell Norman anything about his dismissal. “What we talk about in executive session stays in executive session,” he said.
Norman confirmed he wasn’t told why he and Johnston weren’t considered, but he thinks he knows.
“It can’t be anything more than, my kids are playing and I get to coach, and their kids are playing and they’re not welcome to coach. And also the fact that I defend Coach Johnston,” he said.
Norman said rancor within the softball program began when some parents of players began verbally abusing and bullying the coaching staff. He said during an informal meeting held in October 2012 by adults interested in the softball program, which Norman attended uninvited, two parents told the gathering, “If we do not like what we see in the first four to five games of the 2013 season, then we are not going to stop until Coach Johnston is removed.”
When Brown replaced Marc Robinson as the school district’s superintendent “these parents got empowered to complain to the new superintendent. There’s a lot of history here that he doesn’t know about,” Norman said.
The administration needs to stand up for coaches and volunteer coaches against parents who want to bully coaches and players,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned , Justine is still the head softball coach, and should stay that way, regardless of what happens to me and Larry. This isn’t about us, this is about the program and its direction.”
According to Justine Johnston, “I went (to the meeting) with the intention of working it out…but nothing was said after that. Right now, it’s kind of up in the air.”
Brown said if Johnston wants to leave her position she must submit a formal, written resignation to the school board.
Softball practice begins Feb. 24.
In other business, the school board approved a motion authorizing Brown to provide $5,000 in monetary support to the Wauseon Police Department’s School Resource Officer program for the 2014 calendar year.
“We certainly appreciate the benefit we have. It serves both the students and the police department,” Brown said.
In principals’ reports:
• Primary school principal Troy Armstrong said all of the building’s teachers have developed assessments for students to take either electronically or with pencil and paper.
Grandparents Day, rescheduled due to inclement weather, will be held Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. A session for parents is scheduled at 6:30 p.m.
• Elementary school principal Theresa Vietmeier said 74 people attended the building’s Pint Size Heroes Red Cross blood drive and donated 62 pints of blood.
* Middle school principal Joe Friess said students will make their annual donation to the Fulton County Heart Radiothon.
The school board entered into an executive session to discuss personnel. No action was taken.