Cards’ coach back on the team |

Cards’ coach back on the team

Post Independent Staff

PARACHUTE – The Grand Valley High School Cardinals’ auditorium erupted in cheers, tears and hugs Thursday night when the Garfield District 16 School Board reversed its earlier decision and reinstated Coach Mike Johnson.

About 200 student athletes, parents, faculty and community members attended a special meeting at 7 p.m., to support the popular coach.

The School Board announced April 23 that Johnson’s football and girls basketball coaching contracts would not be renewed for the 2003-04 school year, although his contract to teach physical education and health sciences at the school was renewed.

“I’m so glad they reconsidered,” said an elated and emotional Johnson, 29, standing among family members, as supporters gave him hugs and high-fives. “I think a big part of this was the school board getting to know me and to hear from kids and parents.”

During the last three years, under Johnson’s guidance, Grand Valley High School’s football and girls basketball teams have steadily improved in student participation and team wins.

Both GVHS principal John Johnson and athletic director Jeff Bradley recommended to the school board that Johnson’s contracts be renewed for his teaching and coaching positions.

Supporting the coach

Before the special session began Thursday night, school staff stationed at the auditorium’s entrance passed out an agenda for the evening and a sheet outlining rules of order for the meeting. Speakers got three minutes each.

“This is not a Q and A,” said Ron Palmer, president of the board, to the crowd gathered.

In personnel matters, school board members are bound by state confidentiality laws that prohibit them and school administrators from discussing job issues publicly.

Although district officials couldn’t talk openly, the public could – and did.

More than 20 student athletes and parents addressed the school board and district staff, who sat behind long tables facing the crowd.

Johnson’s supporters came prepared.

Wearing Grand Valley High School Cardinals athletic shirts, student athletes started off public comment with carefully written statements. As they described interactions with their coach, a few of the boys and girls had to pause while they worked to hold back tears.

A father figure and big brother

“Coach Johnson is like a father figure and a big brother to me,” said sophomore Chris Brundle, a Cardinals football player who was injured as a freshman. “When I was injured, Coach helped me stick through it. In strength class, he taught me to lift harder, to make myself stronger. He taught me not to be afraid and to stick up for myself.”

Football player Jeremy Quick, a junior who played JV and varsity football for Johnson for the past three years, got a laugh when he described what Johnson means to him.

“I don’t know of another guy his age that’s as much fun to be around,” Quick said.

And Holly Steltzlen, a National Honor Society student who is pegged to be the girls basketball team captain next year, told the board how important her coach has been to her.

“Coach Johnson molded me into an athlete,” she said. “He taught us to never quit, and he’s inspired us to improve every year. I believe we may make it to state next year, but we may not get the chance if you don’t reconsider.”

Student athlete Joe Hughes read a prepared statement from Paul Harvey, an assistant coach and history teacher at the school who was unable to attend the meeting.

“He’s made us better, faster and stronger,” read Hughes, choking up on Harvey’s words.

The coach stays

Following several pleas from concerned parents, the board went into executive session for nearly an hour, then emerged and voted unanimously in favor of reinstating Johnson.

“This means the students of Grand Valley are privileged to keep a very dedicated and skilled coach and teacher,” said parent Deb Meader.

Johnson’s case isn’t isolated.

Last month, after word got out that Carbondale Middle School principal Cliff Colia might be transferred to another school, parents, school staff and students rallied behind him.

At a special executive session with the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board of education, Colia was assured that he would remain as principal for the 2003-04 school year. Community members still question what was discussed behind closed doors.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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