BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Feb. 8 Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) meeting was packed, with many left at standing room only, as parents and supporters of Fannin County Athletics gathered once again to voice concerns over the direction of the program.
Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney addressed the crowd before the meeting got underway saying, “Safety is always the top priority. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, we have received a maximum number that’s allowed in this room from the state fire marshal, and we must adhere to that number.”
School principals were present to help usher the crowd and school resource officers were stationed at all emergency exits.
“Our room is at capacity,” Gwatney continued. Gwatney announced that the BOE had set up accommodations in expectations of the large turnout. The meeting would be streaming online and alternate locations had been set up at the high school as an overflow where supporters could watch the live-stream.
Ten community members signed up prior to the meeting to ensure that their voices would be heard during public commentary.
Donnie Kendall, who spoke at the January BOE meeting, led the way again and spoke first during the public’s allotted time.
“The last four weeks the administration has not only been helpful, but they have also made theirselves available in hearing all of my concerns, ” Kendall began. “The problem is our administration is reactive instead of proactive.”
Kendall voiced that the same accountability that is placed on educators in the school system should also be placed on coaches, citing the boys basketball team finishing with just three wins and 21 losses.
In comparing this with an academic classroom where only three students were passing with 21 failing, Kendall stated that that educators job would come into question, and the likelihood of their position being renewed would be slim.
“If you choose coaching as career path, you will ultimately be judged by your wins and losses,” Kendall added.
A point of concern among many of the public commentators and mentioned first by Kendall is a need for the BOE to produce total financial transparency of the athletic departments. Kendall, like many others, would like to know what formulas are in place for the funding and who is responsible for the financial decisions.
Speaking of the numerous booster clubs throughout the different athletic departments, who are responsible for raising tens of thousands of dollars every year, Kendall stated, “What we can do and what we are prepared to do is refuse to support that program financially.”
Another commentator, Cliff Shirah spoke from experience on the financial transparency that is desired by parents. Shirah has been treasurer of the Dugout Club for four years.
In those four years, Shirah cited that approximately $192,000 had been raised by the community for this club and the money directly supports Fannin County Athletics.
“We want to know how programs are funded and from what budget, and what is the process or guidelines that those decisions are made?” Shirah questioned the BOE.
Shirah pointed out that the Dugout Club had spent $34,000 in field maintenance and asked, “Why are parents forced to pay for these facilities and field expenses?”
Brian Johnson, former president of the Basketball Booster Club, also touched on finances, stating the Tip Off Club had raised upwards of $200,000 in four years, and asked the board, “What will the school board’s actions be if financial support is taken away from these programs?”
Johnson also addressed what many parents felt were excuses being given by administration for the current state of Fannin County Athletics: “excuses have been given from, ‘we don’t have talent’ to ‘we’re rural and secluded’ to ‘other teams should be playing in higher classifications.'”
Johnson countered these arguments by stating, “What in your minds makes us more secluded than Union County, Murphy, North Carolina, Hayesville, Towns County, or Hiawassee, Georgia? We have struggled against these very schools that are as small or much, much smaller than we are.”
Ryan Walton, who also spoke alongside Donnie Kendall at the January BOE meeting, did not agree with the explanations that the administration has offered. “All I’ve heard is excuses on why we don’t compete. I haven’t heard any answers,” Walton said.
Walton added, “I will say that the coaches at Fannin County right now are doing a great job of teaching our kids that life is not fair and that the best person does not always get the job, but the athletic director and board are doing a terrible job by showing these kids that you can be terrible at your job and not get fired.”
Other parents were present giving testimonials on how success in athletics directly correlates with success in a child’s personal life and their academics. These parents expressed concern over what they saw as the coaches’ lack of involvement with or enthusiasm displayed for their athletes.
Ultimately, the parents and supporters united under a common theme of change. They wish to see a winning culture come back to Fannin County and want the full chain of command, from the BOE down to the coaches, to take responsibility for this turn around.
Follow FetchYourNews as we look into obtaining full financial transparency for the Fannin County Athletics Department.
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