During a mostly civil exchange, parents and students criticized Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 district’s top athletic official on Tuesday, claiming that politics and favoritism were motivating factors in the dismissal of four high school coaches this semester.
With a rare standing room only crowd, people crammed inside two doorways to get a peek inside the Montezuma-Cortez school board meeting this week as some two dozen parents and students showed up to speak. An overwhelming majority of the comments were related to the recent termination of M-CHS swim coach Ian MacLaren.
MacLaren was not retained as the high school swim coach in November after he allegedly violated two Colorado High School Activities Association regulations during last year’s swim season. He also was the sports editor at The Journal from June 2013 to May 2015.
One of the alleged violations included missing paperwork from volunteer parent-coach Candi Duran, who was the first to voice concerns at the board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
“I find it very concerning that only a few parents and swimmers were heard in this firing process, and the rest of the parents and swimmers were not consulted,” said Duran, who was flanked by several members of the M-CHS swim team.
Mother to three current swimmers, Duran said athletic director Stacey Hall had failed to notify her or MacLaren about the missing documents, claiming that disgruntled parents were responsible for his termination.
“Why is Ian the only one taking the fall for this?” Duran asked board members.
“Once again, Cortez finds itself settling for mediocrity,” she said. “We have a new school but the same old mindset.”
Duran also praised MacLaren’s success as a swim coach, stating that he led the team to the state championship last year for the first time in more than 15 years.
“We had six state qualifiers and broke six high school records last year,” Duran said, adding that MacLaren’s termination had completely derailed the team.
Several swimmers also told board members that MacLaren had been one of the most caring, giving and influential people in their lives, in and out of the pool.
“He expects excellence in every area of our life,” said a 17-year-old swimmer.
“Ian is more than just a phenomenal swim coach, he’s also a phenomenal human being,” said the team’s co-captain.
Asked by board president Jack Schuenemeyer how many people in attendance held similar attitudes, nearly everyone raised their hand. Three parents, however, supported the decision to release MacLaren, stating he had been dishonest with administrators.
After voicing initial concerns to high school Principal Jason Wayman, parents and student-athletes subsequently met with Superintendent Alex Carter. The athletes said they believed that speaking to the school board was the final stage in the grievance process, but those in attendance on Tuesday appeared flabbergasted after learning that the board had no control over the hiring decisions of coaches.
“This is where they said we could get a solution,” one woman said.
After the meeting, board member Mike Tanner said he understood the community’s annoyance.
“The people feel like they wasted their time and efforts,” said Tanner. “It was frustrating for the community and the board.”
Asked by a parent on Tuesday about his thoughts, Carter said he wished parents would focus their energy on ensuring academic success for students rather than athletic coaching decisions.
“Athletics are great, and they are important,” Carter said.
“We exist as a school district to try and improve reading, writing and math and prepare people for college and careers,” he continued. “That’s my goal.”
To improve feedback and evaluation of coaches, Wayman unveiled a systematic five-item action plan at Tuesday meeting. The plan includes pre-season meetings with coaches, documenting all issues when they arise, observing coaches during practice, conducting a post-season survey of student-athletes and parents and post-season interviews with coaches.
According to Wayman, who is married to Hall’s niece, the high school is also forming an athletics task force to help guide the future and current state of the school’s athletic department.
In September, first-year head football coach Dave Wagner was ousted after parent-volunteer coaches complained of the play calls during the team’s season opener loss. That same month, the head high school volleyball coach and her assistant were fired.