GHEC approves hoops merger

GRANADA – A three-school boys basketball cooperative sparked some strong views before being approved by the Granada-Huntley-East Chain School Board on Thursday.

The purpose of the two-year agreement between GHEC, Truman and Martin Luther was prompted by an inadequate number of participants, and the need to improve the quality of the basketball experience.

Sheila Denton questioned needing other schools to bolster the number of players, claiming the boys coming into the GHEC basketball program would “play their hearts out.” She also worries about favoritism that coaches might show players from their own schools.

“We’re losing our identity,” Denton said. “It’s their pride they’re losing, their colors.”

“We don’t have a lot of options,” countered board member Brian Nowicki. “There’s only seven juniors and seniors next year. The freshman and sophomore classes could produce another eight players.

“And there’s zero in the eighth grade next year. You’ve got to look at the numbers,” he said.

“You can’t base numbers on just juniors and seniors,” argued Melissa Engel. “We’ve always had a problem with the numbers.”

Her son, Zane, a member of the team, also opposed the agreement.

“No one wants it out of the student body. No one wants it out of the parents,” he said. “We get along with Truman and Martin Luther kids, but those are our big rivals.”

“Pride is a great thing, but what if you wouldn’t win a game all year?” asked board member Tim Pytleski. “It could be demoralizing.”

While parents and students spoke out against the pact, it was the earnest words of a former Mustang coach that calmed the issue.

“I coached for 10 years, and nobody bleeds black and gold more than I do,” said Robbin Celander, referring to the school colors. Celander coached the Mustang boys team to the state championship in 2009.

“But that’s why I’m not coaching today,” Celander said. “There’s no kids. It’s why I got out. It’s too hard with 15 or 16 kids. This is what’s best for Granada-Huntley-East Chain School.”

Celander was supported by Jon Balcom.

“I’d like to see it happen,” he said of the agreement. “It would make all three systems better.”

Balcom noted that the existing program doesn’t have enough players to even compete for a spot on the varsity, a situation that would be remedied by combining the programs.

“Competition is good. Competition makes everybody better,” Celander said.

Robert Garry, board chairman, said the combined teams would be split in to a varsity, junior varsity and possibly even a “C” squad.

“More kids will have more time on the court,” he said.

Parents and students attending the meeting expressed concern about the loss of gate receipts, income from concession sales, school colors, team name and mascot.

“All gates are split into thirds, but let’s start with what’s best for the team and what’s best for the kids,” Garry said.

“This has been going on three months. We need to make a decision,” said board member Troy Jensen.

On a motion by Nowicki, with a second by Chris Pytleski, the board passed the agreement unanimously.

After the vote, Superintendent Steve Heyd called the team members “good boys who will adjust just fine” to the new sharing situation. He also praised the board members as people “who care deeply about this school” because they all attended the school.

“We do things that are not easy, and they’re not enjoyable, but they are problems faced by small schools all over the state,” Heyd said.

The agreement will cover the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year. The team will be called the Truman-Martin Luther-GHEC Jaguars and will sport team colors of royal blue, black and white. Athletic directors from the schools will attempt to schedule one-third of the home games at each school, and also make recommendations on hiring coaches.

In other action, the board approved:

o Replacing the roof on the two-story section of the Granada school. Zack Patton of Patton Roofing presented the board with various options, with the board selecting the least-expensive, but most durable thermoplastic polyolefin material, which carries a 10-year guarantee on product and workmanship. The cost of the project will be about $39,500.

o The negotiated agreement with the GHEC Education Association for this school year and the 2014-15 year, both at a rate of 2 percent.

o A bus driver agreement for this school year and the 2014-15 year, with drivers receiving a route increase of 2 percent per year.