‘The Way We’ve Always Done It’
by Mark Scaramella, October 20, 2010
In the Anderson Valley, there's futbol and there's football.
The football people think their football isn't getting a fair shake. They appeared at last Thursday night’s school board meeting to make their case. They made it well, so well it was irrefutable — and unrefuted.
The presentation was spearheaded by Panther football announcer Ernie Pardini, backed up by prepared presentations from Coach John Toohey and his mother, Fundraiser Supreme Palma Toohey.
Pardini had just been relieved of his volunteer announcer duties by the school district's high school principal James Tomlin for a candid assessment of the school's lack of support for football he'd delivered over the public address system during the homecoming game with Point Arena.
On Thursday night, Pardini began by complaining that AV Athletic Director Robert Pinoli wouldn’t allow the football program to play a standard eleven-man team. (Pinoli did not attend the meeting.) Pardini said that eight- or nine-man teams translate to significantly less college scout interest in local talent, of which there is much in the Anderson Valley.
“Some kids who are pretty good won’t have any other way to get into college,” said Pardini, adding that nine- and eight-man teams also have no playoff opportunities. Some parents have and will pull their kids out of the local schools if there’s not a real football program here at home. These transfers to other schools mean less funding for the school district.
Pardini also said that Principal Jim Tomlin’s recent one-game suspension of star running back Michael Blackburn was “unjust punishment.” The mention of the gifted Blackburn instantly caused Board Chair Marti Bradford to state that there would be no discussion of high school discipline practices in open session. Pardini moved on to the rest of his statement.
“His not participating," Pardini resumed the reference to Blackburn, "meant that the team lost to a team they had trounced soundly the last time they played. He might well be the leading rusher in all of high school sports. He has major Division One potential for a football scholarship. But he may not now that he’s been disqualified.”
Young Mr. Blackburn apparently talked back to a teacher. His punishment, the school decided, was suspension from the football game with Point Arena. Our sources say the school's disciplinary tends to the arbitrary. They say a particular female volleyball player averages a disciplinary referral a week but is not suspended from competitions.
Pardini then complained that Athletic Director Pinoli failed to schedule a home game on Fair Friday, a local tradition that goes back many years in the Anderson Valley, which Pardini said was a “breach of agreement” with the Fair Board.
School administration also refuses to allow the football team to practice on the school's athletic field, aka Tom Smith (Soccer) Field. “We allow adult league soccer teams from out of the Valley to play there,” said Pardini. “They play on weekends whenever they like with no school involvement. Garbage is left that has to be cleaned up by the school custodian. But our own football team is not allowed to practice there.”
Pardini concluded, “I received a phone call last week from Mr. Tomlin informing me that he and Mr. Collins had decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest that I not announce any more high school football games based on my opinions at the last one. This just seems typical of the mindset of this administration to punish the football players for something they have no control over.”
Pardini has devoted many hundreds of hours of his own time to youth football.
Coach John Toohey said he’d been coaching Panther football for the last three years, managing to carry out his on-field duties under the off-field duress of unsanitary equipment storage conditions, a lack of space for athletes to store their equipment, and practicing on unsafe playing surfaces with outdated equipment. “There are no lockers,” said Toohey. “Players have to stuff their equipment into nylon bags and shove them into a corner of a wet, damp locker room where bacteria and infections can grow. Since football players have more open wounds than other athletes, this is particularly dangerous. MRSA [commonly known as staph infection, resistant to anti-biotics] is rampant. This will lead to a MRSA infection eventually. All we need is a bit more space to hang our equipment. We asked for it a couple years ago, but nothing has happened. If a bag falls off into the hallways the custodian complains about being obstructed. So we’re disrespected by having to store the gear in the corner, but if a bag falls off, heaven forbid that a cleaning person has to drag their equipment around it. Robert Pinoli and me and Logo approached you two years ago about maybe using the shed behind the locker room. We’ve been pretty polite about it but nothing’s getting done.”
Board Chair Bradford, who maintains a Nurse Rachit-like persona with accompanying condescending grin on all public occasions, was clearly unhappy with the first two presentations of the evening.
“I don’t want to have to sort out everything tonight,” said Bradford. “We’re here to listen to your complaints and then move forward.” Forward to what, wasn't explained.
But Toohey wasn’t finished.
“The playing surface [at the Fairgrounds] is the worst playing surface in the country. At our first scrimmage there were at least six ankle injuries. These can put someone out for the season. Before the Tomales game there were small trenches all over the north end of the field. There were gopher holes, sand pits. I was ready to suggest the game be called off. Someone’s gonna get hurt. Instead, I was out there with my grandfather and some friends with some compost trying to fill the holes and fix the problems an hour before the game was to start.”
Toohey went on to point out that the season has been curtailed and weeks can go by without a game.
“We’ve lost four players due to lack of interest,” said Toohey. “Grades are dropping. They’re not showing up for study hall. Less weights. It’s a mess. It’s a tough atmosphere to coach under. It would be nice to get our field fixed, and it would be nice to get a little bit more energy in the athletic department. This has been a problem since I went to school here five years ago. The same arguments keep coming up. Enough is enough. We get no support, no backup. It’s dragging the kids down and it’s killing the program."
Palma Toohey was very much on point. Indefatigable in her support for school activities for many years, she was also unhappy with the way the football program had been relegated to a kind of unwanted stepchild status.
“We’re upset because things that should be automatic are not getting done. The Athletic Director should be looking at the field, should be checking the locker room, see how it’s going. Talking to people, seeing how things are. Seeing what’s necessary and dealing with it. Things in his job description are not being taken care of.”
Mrs. Toohey went on to say that the sports fundraising program was based on inequalities from program to program. She said she was prohibited from doing a football fundraiser last year but this year soccer was permitted to do a soccer-only fundraiser.
“I could not even have the word ‘football’ on a poster,” said Mrs. Toohey. “It’s not fair. I was told that all the money had to go into the Booster Fund. But we did it that way, including soccer, and the money went into the Booster fund. We then had to turn around and get donations to pay for the uniforms. Coach Toohey even donated back his $1500 stipend.”
“I have no problem," Mrs. Toohey continued, "with the soccer team fundraising for themselves. But it was kind of like a stab in the heart because I tried so hard, then it was taken away from me. I did double work on that [working up a bigger program so that enough would go to football]. And I’m a little upset about it. I’m glad they got their uniforms, but I don’t think they followed the proper procedure on that.”
Then Mrs. Toohey said what almost everybody else thinks but won’t say outloud: “Nobody likes the Booster Fund. Everybody hates it, to be very honest with you. Parents tell me they don’t join the Booster fund because they hate the general Booster fund. Why not do one big fundraiser for the General Booster Fund, then let everybody else do their own for what they need? No; that can’t happen. So I back off and I don’t know what’s happening with it now. But it needs to be revamped. We need to restructure it and get more parents involved. But not if it’s going to be run like this.”
Mrs. Toohey summed up her frustration: “Everything we do we have to fight for. There’s always trouble. Always arguing. No support. That’s the bottom line.”
Parent Kari Sanchez was next up, as Mrs. Bradford's perpetual smile grew tighter.
“The Booster fund money is determined by three people. A little equality would be nice. You should revamp the way Booster fund money is handled. Other people should be involved.”
Jennifer Espinosa, mother of current football player, added, “The kids are upset. They want an 11-man team. They keep asking me to do something.”
Recent AV football alum Amin Gazali commented, “There’s just a lack of games, a lack of follow through. Mr. Pinoli won’t listen to us regarding 11 man teams. We have plenty of players. John Toohey and Logo [Tevaseu] turned the football program around two years ago; it was a championship team two years ago. But since then there’s been no help. It’s not right that there are no lockers, no field support and so on. We should be treated like everyone else. We can play an 11-man team, we just ask for a little help.”
Ernie Pardini’s brother Tony asked, “Can I ask a couple questions really shortly, because…?”
Bradford immediately cut him off: “Well, we have a a lot of business to do tonight.”
Pardini grumbled: “I thought you’d say that. Thank you.”
Bradford: “I actually have a suggestion where we could go from here. [Trustee] Erica [Lemons] says she’s willing to work with a group of concerned parents…”
Pardini stormed out of the room in a huff, declaring, “I knew she wouldn’t allow me to ask any questions.”
As Pardini walked out Bradford continued, “We are not going to solve these questions at this table. We need to get with the Athletic Director and concerned parents. We definitely want them solved. Erica [Lemons] is a football mom and I think that might be a good path forward. Mr. Pinoli, Mr. Tomlin, J.R., whatever.”
Erica Lemons, a standout basketball and volleyball player in her Panther days, picked up the ball and ran with it.
“I’d like to start with the locker room problem right away.”
But Ernie Pardini saw the chalk lines in the grass.
“Aren’t you basically handing the chickens back to the raccoons by setting up a meeting with the Athletic Director and the Principal and so forth?”
Bradford, a veteran of nearly three decades on the school board during which time she's cast an estimated 20,000 YES votes for the administrations she allegedly supervises, declared, “That’s where problems get solved. We won’t solve it here, okay?”
Kari Sanchez asked, “What about Ernie being fired? He’s a very important volunteer who’s been active for years. We don’t get that many volunteers. They’re hard to come by. He knows all the players by name and number. He does a great job.”
Bradford: “Well, as I say, that’s not going to be worked out here. Not now. We need to have all these problems sorted out.”
Sanchez: “That’s not a board problem?”
Bradford: “I want these problems to be sorted out with the administration. And if there’s a board member sitting there, that should help.”
Ernie Pardini: “And if they’re not solved? … What is the function of our school board?”
High School Principal Jim Tomlin, paid $72,000 for a 9-month work year as lead problem solver at the high school, responded: “I just want to solve the problems. Let’s solve them. It’s my job to solve them. I appreciate you keeping my feet to the fire on this. If you don’t like the way it comes out with me, you can go to the Superintendent and then to the Board.”
Erica Lemons: “I know how bad it was. I was at homecoming. I’ve come in to this situation new. I don’t know what promises were made or not. We have a home game coming up and I want to fix it before that.”
(And we've heard since the meeting that Mrs. Lemons is actively working on the equipment storage problem already.)
Student rep Lily Leighton said she wanted to comment.
“Football is so important to most of the boys,” she delcared. “It’s all these kids talk about. They see how little support there is and taking it away from them little by little is really, really bad. They get so excited. And every time a game doesn’t work out, they take it really bad.”
Coach Toohey added, “Remember, with football, there are not that many games in season, so each game means a lot. It’s not like other sports. Each game is an opportunity for these kids to grow up. And each time a game doesn’t happen it’s a loss.”
* * *
Before the meeting moved on to more mundane subjeccts, your reporter asked about the Board agenda.
“Can you explain how an item under closed session called ‘finalization of Superintendent’s management objectives’ is an exception to open session requirements of the Brown Act?”
Bradford: “Those objectives are what we put together with the Superintendent every year and are part of his evaluation.”
(There hasn't been a true evaluation of a school administrator since an unfortunate woman by the name of Marlene Smeed was quickly hounded out of the superintendent's job by a claque of employees angry that Ms. Smeed had had the audacity to attempt to supervise them. That was some 15 years ago.)
Reporter: “The objectives themselves should not be part of a personnel closed session exception.”
Bradford: “Well, we’ve always done it that way.”
Reporter: “So that’s your answer? That’s how you’ve always done it?”
Bradford: "It’s part of his confidential evaluation.”
Superintendent Collins came to Ms. Bradford’s assistance.
“The objectives are basically what I’m going to be evaluated on. In terms of the items, I have no problem sharing them. There’s nothing to hide.”
Reporter: “That's very good. But in my experience management objectives are always discussed in open session. That way there’s an opportunity for public comment.”
Bradford: “We do this every year as part of the district’s goal setting.”
Reporter: “I still think it’s a Brown Act violation to have that subject discussed in closed session.”
Bradford: “I don’t know about that. But if JR doesn’t mind sharing the objectives, that’s fine.”
As the board meeting proceeded (see Valley People) after the football fans left, having barely tolerated their presence, Bradford and her board and various staff relaxed into the usual self-congratulatory chit-chat about the school’s test scores and what a swell job everyone was doing.