Standing up for what you believe in is an important life lesson

To the Editor:

As a former teacher at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, and a current mother to three high school children, each of whom are three-sport athletes, I would like to express my concern with regard to certain members of the current school board and administration, and the choices they have made lately.

First, I feel it was in very poor taste, and yet very calculated, to schedule a school board meeting where academic achievement of honor students, as well as years-of-service awards for faculty, coincided with such a statement of negativity to our community as the failure to appoint a beloved coach. Many of the students honored, including one of my own, were touched deeply by the decisions made by this board and I don’t feel it’s fair to forever link the two events together.

I have lived in Knox my whole life and am embarrassed by the lack of disregard and contempt certain persons on the board and administration have shown our school and community in general. We elect school board members, in good stead, to uphold the beliefs and the desires of the community as a whole. We don’t elect them to address their own personal agenda and ignore the clear voices of those they were elected to represent.

Many of these people, who may have supported certain board members in the past, may be very hard pressed to do so again. Many members of our community spoke in a very heartfelt and persuasive manner in support of one of our own and I hope will do so again when the next election rolls around. Clearly their voices were not heard at the school board meeting that day but maybe they will be, come Election Day!

Second, I think our district has bigger issues on which they should be spending time. Specifically, the district is ranked 263 of 429 in a recent poll of academic achievement. This concerns me.

Enrollment continues to decline and taxes will still keep going up. This concerns me.

Certain members of the faculty seem to be harassed and held to one standard while others can do whatever they want, whenever they want. This concerns me.

Although I am not allowed to speak with regard to my own situation, as dictated through the lawyers and mediators of my settlement, as a former colleague and friend to many BKW teachers, I am still aware of many continuing situations that have gone unresolved. This concerns me.

Additionally, the teachers are still working without a contract, which has resulted in many high-quality teachers leaving. This concerns me.

As teacher, friend, and coach, Jim Lemire summed up so well at that board meeting, anyone can be next. This concerns me.

Although our kids can participate in outside endeavors such as joining local fire companies, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, The Hilltowns Players, youth groups, Little league, youth soccer, or Pop Warner football and cheerleading, as well as many other ventures, school sports is still a great teaching tool and way for many young people to come together in a positive manner.

I must admit there have been times, even this year, when I have not agreed with playing time, coaching decisions, practice scheduling, and probably other issues but I cannot fault the level of dedication and commitment these coaches have shown to countless numbers of children over the years, including my own.

As a matter of fact, there are some coaches I have had to apologize to or owe apologies to. There are also some who deserved to lose their positions, and did, based on reasons for which they were well aware.

When my children did not get the playing time they wanted, or the position they wanted, or were not named a captain, or any number of other perceived complaints, my answer to them was always and will always be: “Try harder, work harder, earn it.”

When did this philosophy become lost? When did every kid deserve a spot on a team? Should we just give them all jobs some day that they may not deserve, aren’t capable of doing, or have not earned? They can’t all be politicians — just kidding (sort of).

In a time not so very long ago, if you were not good enough you had two choices — work hard and become better or move on and try something else. If you loved the sport, you did the best you could and played the role that best benefited the team.

When my children complained they were disrespected, I addressed the coach on their behalf. A good portion of the time, after listening to the coach and questioning my kids, my kids owed the coach an apology.

Occasionally, the kids were given an apology. Either way, they were great teaching moments. Generation after generation, it seems the act of respecting others has diminished.  Coaches are passionate about their sport. If they were not, they wouldn’t spend all the time they do, sacrificing many other important life events of their own to spend time with our kids!

That being said, coaches should be held to a certain standard, as all adults should. I would like to let a few families, who believed in something and stood up for their belief, know that I am sorry for the treatment they had to endure.

The community didn’t necessarily have a right to specifically call out certain people any more than the board should have rested quietly and without acknowledgement to the concerns expressed by many.

I personally know one young man who was brought to tears after the board meeting. Some of the commentary directed at him was not necessary or helpful to anyone involved. We, as adults, do not need to hurt these kids who also felt like they were doing the right thing by voicing their opinion.

Standing up for what you believe in is another important life lesson we need to teach our kids. We may not all agree, or have the same beliefs, but we should teach our kids to defend whatever they feel is important in a respectful and well-thought-out way, as well as teach them to respect and listen to opinions of others without being hurtful.

On that note, I would like to personally thank the following coaches of various Berne-Knox-Westerlo sports (not all of whom I agreed with all of the time but to whom I will always be grateful) for everything they have done over the years for me, my children, and on behalf of many of the former kids I had the absolute pleasure to teach, watch play, and come to know over the years: Coaches Tom Galvin, Andy Wright, Brian McCoy, Gary Morin, Bruce VanWormer, Jim Lemire, Tara Cummings, Mark Tidd, Jim Gillis, Paolo Audino, Bill Tindale, Maria Tedeschi, Fred Marcil, Annette Landry, and Bill Dergosits (who helped my daughter earn the honor of first team all-star for Western Athletic Conference soccer).

If I missed someone, I’m sorry! Every single one of you has given something of yourselves to my children and for that I will be forever grateful.

Although I am disheartened by the loss of some basketball coaches who helped my kids in more ways than just sports, I am hoping for the best from all involved. Good luck to McCoy as he pursues personal endeavors, with my many thanks as a friend, former science colleague, incredible coach (and teacher to my son), and all-around great guy.

All the best to Andy as he carries on in Middleburgh (please play nice as my son is on the opposite side of the scoreboard now) and his wife, my friend Amy, as she has to handle all five kids and learn a new coaching schedule! God bless you, girl!

Thanks to Galvin, not only as a returning great basketball coach who managed to get my soccer-playing and softball-playing daughters to love basketball  but also for filling the need of BKW athletic director and doing it so well. The level of respect I have for you for doing the right thing in a very difficult situation is beyond mention.

Additionally, I would like to welcome the new coaches to Berne basketball. I hope you will work as hard for our kids as those you are replacing did. I hope our community will show you the respect I’m sure you have earned elsewhere.

Finally, thanks again to every teacher and every coach each of my children has had along the way because you have all had an impact somehow on each and every one of them!

Sheila Martin
Mom of three BKW athletes and “Mommy Martin” to many more

Editor’s note: This letter appears here, online, in full form as submitted; the print version was edited to fit the Enterprise’s thousand-word guideline.

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