Education, Elections, Featured, Sherrie Peif, Sports

Northern Colorado community threatening recall over loss of baseball coach

Eaton Board MeetingEATON—A political maneuver designed to avoid corruption among government officials is being threatened in one small Northern Colorado school district for a highly unusual reason.

The possibility of a recall of the five-member Eaton Re-2 School District Board of Education is not because its school board members are not representing the best interests of their constituents. It’s not because they are unresponsive or incompetent. It’s because a group of residents are frustrated with recent decsions concerning a beloved high school baseball coach.

What administrators and board members called a much-needed culture change ended with the coach choosing to leave his position, which in 43 years brought 36 league championships, 29 regional championships, 33 consecutive trips to the state tournament, 29 appearances in the final four (23 consecutive from 1993-2015), 21 appearances in the state championship game and 11 state championships, most recently in 2015.

With an 807-163-2 record, Jim Danley’s 83.1 win percentage is the third-winningest percentage nationally in high school baseball.

But administrators and players say that over the past decade or so, Danley’s son, Kirk Danley, who only had an official role with the team in the summer, intimidated and threatened players’ spring positions, playing time, and college recruiting help if they didn’t conform to his wishes, which included not playing other sports, not playing outside the Eaton system in off seasons, blaming individual athletes for losses, and putting too much emphasis on his father’s records, they said.

Danley was given until Oct. 1 to sign a performance improvement plan (PIP) that for the most part restricted Kirk’s association with the team. The PIP went unsigned, and the district posted the head coach position for applications on Oct. 2.

Longtime assistant Bob Ervin was named the interim head coach on Monday. He will hold that role for the next year or two to help transition the team into a new era.

“I want the spotlight to shine on the kids because ultimately that’s what it’s about,” Ervin said. “If we have success, I want them to have the credit and if we fail, I will take the blame. I like helping kids. That’s what it’s about for me.”

It was current players who initially complained to the superintendent and athletic director, after they helped lead the team to a state title in May.

“We are not here on any side for a new coach,” said senior starting shortstop Matt Burkhardt, who represented about a half-dozen or more other Eaton baseball players at a meeting in September, noting that the players who stood with him were all varsity starters. “We need a culture and an environment that promotes the confidence-building skills, the baseball skills, and other life skills.”

It is unclear exactly who is behind the recall, but a public Facebook page called “Recall Eaton Re-2 School Board,” has 175 “likes” and boasts more than 3,000 unique visitors. Posters on the site claim the board gave in to pressure from that handful of athletes and didn’t take into consideration the coach’s supporters.  The debate has been ugly at times, with some calling the boys “bubblewrap boys,” accusing them of having poor upbringings, and implying that they have never been told no, among other things.

Eaton Superintendent Randy Miller and Board President Tim Croissant said the behavior of some adults, including name-calling and bullying the teens who had the courage to speak up, is disappointing.

Both men said they would not change what they did. They are confident most of the community supports the changes, pointing out that the entire high school staff, with the exception of one person who was unavailable at the time, signed a letter of support for the board saying the changes were needed.

“I think what it did was it created a forum for people to feel safe to speak out,” Miller said. “They saw that ‘wow, it wasn’t just me,’ so I think for some, it was very healthy.”

Both men also say that if ultimately the decision costs them their jobs, they will leave knowing what they did was right.

“I do this because I want to make this the best district it can be for the kids,” Croissant said. “And the only way that was going to happen was to change the culture of that baseball team.”

Commenters on the Facebook page believe differently.

“Recall Eaton RE-2 School Board should have a lot of support in May when we can recall the current BOE” a post by the administrator of the page reads. “Please stay vigilant and follow this school board. Make sure they are making the right decisions for our students, not for personal agendas!”

Another post takes issue with series of conversations among board members pertaining to Danley’s tenure that took place through emails that appear to be in violation of open meeting laws, according to a Greeley Tribune report.

Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes confirmed there have been several requests for information on the recall process.

Koppes said because the district hasn’t had a contested election since the 1990s, petitioners would need roughly 600 signatures from among the 6,490 registered voters in the district. The cost would be the responsibility of the district and would be between $6,500 and $132,000 depending on the number of members certified for recall, the timing of the certifications, and whether the election was mail in or polling center.

It remains to be seen whether the Eaton recall is evidence that such efforts will become more common in the wake of the widely publicized Jefferson County school board recall, or just an anomaly. Either way, Miller said he has no regrets. He’s hopeful the community can move forward.

“Honestly, it’s what you stand for. I really believe in what the board did, and as a superintendent there are certain times that you are willing to say, ‘my values are such that if it costs me my job, I’m willing to go there.’  If this town is just about baseball, and they’re going to recall the board based just upon that and not everything else that this district has done, then I guess I’m in the wrong place.”

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