At Thursday night’s (March 10) Board of Education meeting, Wilton High School athletic director Chris McDougal presented his plan to address and remediate issues that parents of WHS student-athletes have raised regarding the athletic department policies and procedures. More than 30 parents attended the meeting, with the majority clearly there to hear what McDougal had to say.

Before McDougal spoke, superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith reiterated the administration’s commitment to insure effective communication between all parties involved in the WHS athletic program, including communication between coaches and athletes, coaches and parents, and parents and the administration.

Smith noted a need to, “…ensure that our policies and procedures are clear and consistent and define structures that will provide high-quality experiences for all of our student-athletes, structures that promote pro-active communication at all levels, and timely follow-through and resolution when complaints and concerns are expressed.”

He also acknowledged that the department hasn’t been perfect, and promised things would be addressed.

“I know that there have been issues in our athletics programs and …that there are areas where we can do much better. I can tell you tonight, that we will do much better,” he said.

In his presentation, McDougal identified four areas he will focus on to address recent issues:

  • Create a new WHS Athletics vision statement for the athletic program which will align with the current WHS mission statement, and reflect the core values of 1) Academics First, 2) Sportsmanship and Teamwork, 3) Character Development, 4) Leadership, 5) Development of Athletic Skills and Healthy Lifestyles and 6) Health and Safety of Student Athletes
  • Set high standards for all coaches, players, parents and spectators, including encouraging students to self-advocate
  • Ensure a consistent application of standard operating procedures (SOP) across all teams that includes guidelines for recruiting/hiring of coaches, procedures for selecting captains and for resolving conflicts
  • Promote of a culture of respect in the athletic program to include the creation of a “Coaches Corner” on the WHS athletic website to facilitate open lines of communication between parents, coaches and student-athletes.

McDougal announced that to achieve these goals he is forming a WHS Athletic Steering Committee comprised of student-athletes, parents, community members and the athletic director.  This committee will be responsible for revising the Athletics Vision Statement and Core Values, for the redesign the Athletic Handbook and Coaches Handbook, and for reviewing the SOP to insure high quality standards for all stakeholders.

Following McDougal’s presentation, the BoE members asked him several questions including how the members of the steering committee would be selected. BoE members cautioned that that every stakeholder group would need to be represented on the Steering Committee. They also directed that the committee establish a procedure and timeframe for responding to issues, to address criticisms about the athletic department’s lack of timely responsiveness. Many board members emphasized the need to improve communications between all stakeholders, and that actions such as updating the athletic website on a timely basis would be good first steps.

BoE chairman Bruce Likly explained that while there were three families who brought athletic issues to the attention of the Board, its role is not to hire or fire coaches or athletic directors, but to focus on policy.

The board members wanted to clarify what was the substance of the issues originally presented by parents. Smith explained that while there was not universal agreement from all parties about specific events, the initial issue apparently involved the selection of captains on the girls’ varsity soccer team. The fall 2015 captains had been selected during the prior season under the direction of the previous coach. When a new coach arrived for the fall 2015 season, she made the decision to reselect captains, but communication about the reasons for this was unclear. There were also accusations about statements that the coach made to specific players. Several parents contacted McDougal and the administration about their concerns, but felt they weren’t being heard. As a result, some players and parents lost trust in the coach. Smith acknowledged that the athletic department needs a better process for addressing concerns raised by players and parents, and for responding in a timely manner.

The BoE then moved to open the meeting up to public comment. Several residents got up to speak.

John Prinner, who had presented his concerns to the Board once before, wasn’t satisfied with what he had just heard. “We just had a question and answer session but we didn’t hear any answers,” and added, “Who owns and leads this process?” Prinner suggested that the solution of a steering committee has failed in the past and questioned McDougal’s leadership ability.

Kyle Lauricella, one of the parents who brought issues to the attention of the BoE this past fall, read from a list of 26 questions for the athletic director and BoE. Among her questions, she asked whether the new SOP would be available for review by the public before being implemented.

Another parent, Joe Egan, noted that he had reviewed McDougal’s plan on the WHS Athletic Website and felt it was nothing but “empty rhetoric.”  “Nothing is ever accomplished by steering committees,” Egan said.

Likly expressed the BoE’s appreciation for residents’ comments and said that the Board would respond to the questions raised, where appropriate. He also noted that a copy of McDougal’s plan is available on the WHS Athletic website.

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