MONTE VISTA — Following a five-plus-hour special session on Thursday, June 1, the Monte Vista school board voted 4-1 to not renew the contract for high school boys basketball coach Robert Siemering.
Board member Elizabeth Conner said, “Robert Siemering has become a divisive figure in the community. We need someone to unite the basketball program” before motioning for the non-renewal of Siemering’s contract.
The Monte Vista Board of Education held the June 1 special session to continue discussions begun last month regarding Siemering.
At their regularly scheduled May 11 meeting several players, parents and coaches discussed concerns about Siemering’s coaching. Speakers at that meeting made it clear they preferred Siemering not be renewed as the basketball coach for the 2017-2018 school year, with many players threatening to leave the district entirely.
The full school board was present at Thursday’s special meeting, which lasted five and a half hours. School Board President Dr. Matt Nehring explained that he understood emotions were high regarding the basketball coach matters but asked that everyone present be as respectful as possible or the board would have attendees removed and/or adjourn the meeting, which never became an issue. Nehring stated, “The board doesn’t have any good options at this point… either way there will be very unhappy people in this room.”
Nehring explained it has put the board in a difficult position, as many of the issues brought up at the May meeting were from the previous two basketball seasons, and the board was not informed of them until a week before the May meeting when they were told about a petition being circulated calling for Siemering’s removal.
Nehring also pointed out that there was confusion at the May meeting because some parents had brought up issues that happened with the eighth grade team, which Siemering does not coach and any problems with that team “are not his doing.” Nehring also provided a brief outline of the progress made since that meeting, stating that the following Friday evening (May 12) he and another board member met with three of the concerned parents and the Monday after that (May 15) he and board member Gary Wilkinson met with Siemering.
“I want to reiterate that the board is committed to investigate this fully,” Nehring added, stating that he hoped for resolution that evening but there was a possibility that wouldn’t happen.
The board met in executive session, taking comments from players and their parents if they were on Siemering’s basketball team during the most recent season. A member of the Siemering family questioned why the board was choosing to take comments in executive session because the May meeting was public and comments there were featured in the Monte Vista Journal. Nehring answered that while he understood why someone wouldn’t have wanted to speak out in favor of Siemering at the May meeting, the board “isn’t here to conduct a PR campaign, we’re here to solve a problem.”
The board returned from taking comments shortly before 11 p.m. with Nehring speaking first, reiterating how he is “discouraged” that still some of the issues mentioned in the executive session “go back two years.”
The board voted 4-1 for the non-renewal, with Wilkinson being the only “nay” vote, favoring Siemering’s retention.
Siemering comments on allegations and non-renewal
Siemering declined to comment on the matter following the emotional meeting Thursday night but contacted Valley Publishing on Friday, thanking the paper for the opportunity to tell his side on some of the issues brought up at the May meeting and to comment on the board’s decision.
Regarding the decision he stated, “I’m sad and disappointed, and I have 12 players at home who are also disappointed.”
Siemering said the team was unable to attend a tournament on Friday because he was no longer the coach, adding his contract is only for the basketball season, “all the extra tournaments, all the open gyms, you just do because you’re the coach.” He added that he encouraged the board to make their decision Thursday evening instead of extending the process any further because “the only ones being hurt by this are the kids.”
Regarding the basketball program and staff, Siemering stated, “I’m thankful for the opportunity that I was given by the principal and the athletic director and for their support. I had a lot of parent support and a lot of kids that weren’t part of that group [who spoke in favor of non-renewal] and I feel bad for them. There are some great kids there and I loved all of the kids. There is some great talent on the team and I wish the program the best of luck in the future. My immediate supervisors were in my corner and I can’t ask any more than that, other than I had some wonderful parents that were there and spoke on my behalf too.”
When asked about the concerns with his coaching style, Siemering explained that as coach, he gave his cell phone number to the players’ parents, and they were “welcome to call me 24/7… except for Sundays because of CHSAA rules.” He added that he wouldn’t discuss the problems at length over the phone because he preferred scheduling face-to-face meetings with parents, “so nothing gets lost.”
In his two years as coach at Monte Vista “I only had one parent meeting,” he stated he felt that meeting resolved the issue in question and he was surprised at all of the accusations leveled at him at the May school board meeting. “My question to them [the board] was, ‘If they don’t come to me, how can I address this?’”
“I’m an old-school discipline-structured coach. I believe in defense, rebounding, controlling your turnovers and having a meticulous half-court offense… I believe that kids earn their way and rewards are given for effort and attitude.” Siemering again added, “There are some great kids there and I loved all of the kids... If believing in discipline and structure is the wrong thing, I have to disagree.”
Siemering has 30 years of coaching experience, growing up in Monte Vista; he used to coach little league in college before moving to the Denver metro area and coaching there for 28 years. He estimates that about 20 of his students have gone on to play college basketball, some as scholarship athletes.
Siemering stated that he was facing the always-difficult battle of “changing the culture” in regards to coaching styles and said, “There were some other issues within my staff and I was making some changes within my staff and that may have added to the energy that was put forth in trying to get me out of there.”
In regards to some of the accusations at the May meeting, “The first meeting was very public. There were only two varsity athletes and one parent that spoke out of the 15-17 people… There were two that were JV players and the rest were concerns about kids that I never coached. Explain to me how I was responsible for these eighth grade kids because I was never given the opportunity or the responsibility to coach them? When you have that many kids that you have never coached before come forward and complaining about you, it raises concerns about ‘where did that information come from?’”
Siemering specifically spoke about a young man whose eye was injured. “The administrator on duty, John Naranjo, was there. The young man was taken out of the game, the trainer from the other school looked at him, talked to John Naranjo and the decision was made to ice it, move on and go home and have his parents take him to his doctor at home. At no point did we belittle the fact that he had an injury or ignore it.”
Siemering pointed out that “there was a lot of blame put on me” but the administrator on duty was in charge of calling the parents in incidents like that because he was still actively coaching a game. “It’s athletics; kids get hurt, we have things in place to take care of that…but this got twisted into a bad situation and everything was done following the process to handle it. I don’t ignore injuries or put the kids in danger. The checks and balances are in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
He added that he would not let the player in question practice again without a doctor’s note clearing him.
When asked if he would seek to appeal the board’s ruling, Siemering expressed some frustration that he didn’t believe the board took the approximately 10 positive letters from former athletes, parents and coaches that he has worked with over the last 30 years to have as much weight as they should have, but still answered, “No, this has drug on for long enough… They need to move on; they need to find a coach; they need to put someone in the place to embrace the program and try to move it forward. The only ones being hurt right now are the kids, which I told them [the board] last night… I love the kids. I wish them well, and I hope they find someone soon so they can get back in the gym. I had some very special athletes; they’re smart; they’re bright and I hope the best for them.”