B y Krystle S. Morey

By a controversial 5-4 vote, the Granville Board of Education agreed Monday night to rehire Mario Torres as the varsity football coach for the fall season.

The move rejected another candidate for the job who was supported by Athletic Director Eileen Troy and high school Principal Camille Harrelson.

The deciding vote was cast by board member Nekia Torres, the coach’s spouse.

Challenging the vote

The action was challenged by some who claimed a two-thirds majority vote is required to appoint a family member of a board member, but the New York State School Boards Association said the rule applied only in the case of teachers, and not coaches.

School Superintendent Mark Bessen said at this point the board’s action is legal and binding.

“If this is a legal and binding vote, there’s nothing to revisit,” he said. “Unless someone challenges it with the commissioner, to say that they want a specific ruling on it, it is what it is.”

Appointment reintroduced

Just before the lengthy board meeting was to be adjourned, board Vice President Suzanne McEachron made a motion to appoint Torres as the varsity football coach – an item that was not listed on the meeting agenda. Board President Audrey Hicks seconded the motion, bringing Torres’ appointment to a vote.

This followed an hour-long public comment period and almost two and a half hours in closed-door executive session.

The vote

Joining Nekia Torres in approving the appointment were Hicks, McEachron and members Greg Bourn and Jo-Lynne Bartholomew. Opposed were John McDermott, Eric Scribner, Carrie O’Brien and Molly Celani.

“The board made the appointment on their own without recommendation from the athletic director or the superintendent … or the principal,” Bessen said. “I have never seen this done in my life.”

After the meeting, Bessen said, “Now I have to go check with our attorney to see if this is all good, because you have a spouse voting, the board appointing without recommendation and is there a need for a supermajority.”

On Tuesday, Bessen had not heard back from the district’s attorney, Jay Girvin, of Girvin & Ferlazzo, PC in Albany. Girvin did not return calls from The Sentinel for an interview.

“All nine people (on the board) were doing what they truly believe was best for the kids, based on the information that they had or what they heard that day,” Bessen said.

The other candidate

Troy and Harrelson had recommended Jeremiah Condon, the district’s new physical education teacher and former elementary school teacher, for the position – which was on the agenda. The board voted 5-4 to decline Condon’s appointment.

Though Condon was not appointed to coach the Golden Horde in the fall, the board did accept his application to become a physical education teacher with a salary of $50,222. With this, the board accepted Condon’s resignation as a teacher at the Granville Elementary School.

The board also OK’d the hiring of Brian Bowe, who is finishing up a long-term teaching position in the Corinth School District, to fill the district’s second vacant physical education position. Bowe will be paid $41,130. He will also make $1,977.20 as the assistant modified football coach this season, which the board voted to unanimously accept Monday.

Heated debate

Nekia Torres was the only board member to oppose the appointments of Bowe and Condon as physical education teachers. She and four other board members opposed Condon’s appointment at head varsity football coach.

Troy attended the meeting, but did not stay to hear the board’s decision.

“I have no reaction to that,” Troy said. “Unfortunately I cannot comment … it’s a personnel matter. You’ve got to direct all of your questions to the superintendent.”

After the meeting some board members criticized the way the board decided to reintroduce Torres’ appointment.

“This was all planned,” board member John McDermott said to Hicks. “You knew where this was going to end up. You shoved Mario down our throats … and that’s inappropriate.”

Hicks responded, “I did not plan this.”

McDermott was angered that Hicks did not open up discussion before putting Torres’ appointment to a vote.

“More discussion could have changed the outcome,” he said to Hicks. “You did not allow that discussion to happen. You violated procedure.”

“You could have said, ‘I want a discussion’,” Hicks replied. “You can make a motion to do whatever in a meeting if you have a motion, a second and five votes.”

“We are elected to represent the people,” said McEachron. “If there are 100 people here, and 90 of them want that (Torres’ appointment), I think it’s our responsibility to respect that.”

Torres’ reaction

Torres, who has been the district’s varsity football coach since the 2007-08 season, did not attend Monday’s meeting, stating that he “did not want his presence to affect what the students and community were doing.”

“We are relieved to put this behind our program and to be able to completely focus on what matters,” Torres said. “My heartfelt appreciation goes out to all the teachers, community members, parents, and players (past, present, and future) that have bought into our philosophy of Granville Football. The comments, the unwavering support, and the theme of ‘family’ completely validates what we have done over our tenure. We are extremely grateful and moved that our ‘family’ had a voice and that this voice was listened to.”

Background

In nine seasons as head coach, Torres has a record of 30-51, with three winning seasons.

Controversy and concern swirled around the board’s May 31 decision to table Torres’ appointment, which drew nearly 100 students, parents, faculty and alumni to the board’s June 13 meeting.

At the May meeting, the board appointed 12 of 13 fall coaches that were on the agenda. It decided to table Torres’ appointment after an hours-long closed-door meeting.

Nekia Torres did not vote at the May 31 meeting, when the board decided to table her husband’s appointment. She left in the middle of the hours-long executive session, before the board voted.

Board members remain mute as to why Torres’ appointment was pulled initially, citing privacy about executive session and inability to discuss personnel issues in public.

Public comment

During the public comment session, about 15 people addressed the board with concerns about Torres’ tabled appointment and his dedication to the district and its programs. The board voted to extend its routine 30-minute public session because when time was called, there were still attendees who wanted to speak.

Nick Koutrakos, who will be a senior on the varsity team this fall, questioned the board about why Torres was not initially appointed.

“This is affecting us as a family. We just want to know why,” he said, referring to his close-knit team.

Board President Audrey Hicks responded: “Personnel issues cannot be discussed in public.”

Koutrakos quoted Torres in his concluding statement: “It’s a kid’s game until adults get involved.”

Several alumni and parents spoke about Torres’ dedication to the players both on and off the field.

Renae McKittrick’s son Darren will play his senior season of football in the fall. McKittrick thanked Torres for his dedication to the district and to her son as a player. Darren has received letters from several colleges, recognizing him as a scholar athlete, something McKittrick attributes to Torres’ dedication.

“This wouldn’t happen without the help of Mario,” she said, citing her conversations with parents from other districts, who said their players weren’t receiving similar letters.

“Torres fought to get me recognized as an all-state linebacker,” added Walter Foster, a 2010 GHS graduate and former football player.

“The only thing he is lacking is support from the administration and recognition for what he has done,” Foster said, citing Torres’ dedication to several sports programs in the district. “We haven’t given it enough time to realize that success.”

Mike Bucciero was recruited to play football in college after he played as a Section II all-star under Torres. “My coach got me into college for football,” he said.

“We have to stop treating people as if they are disposable,” said Bucciero, a 2009 grad. “Mario Torres is not disposable.”

“They care very much for their coach,” said Bessen.

Granville student Kellie Brill said she has never talked to Torres. She’s never even met him. “Look around … we have a whole football team here,” she said. “If my volleyball coach were taken away my senior year, I don’t know what I would do.”

A few educators also spoke up, including Katie Barber, phys ed teacher and varsity field hockey coach. Barber addressed the board with her concerns as a teacher, a coach, a parent, a member of the community and a GHS Class of ’95 alumna.

To the players she said, “I am frustrated for you and for our community.”

Christine Cook, who retired from the district as a Social Studies teacher after 33 years, has always touted academics. At the meeting Monday night, she stressed the importance of being able to connect with the kids who may not respond well to academics.

“Sometimes you can’t get to the kids without a hook … sports is a wonderful hook,” Cook said.

Torres: Thank you

The following is a statement sent to The Sentinel by Mario Torres Tuesday following his reappointment as Granville’s varsity football coach:

“We are relieved to put this behind our program and to be able to completely focus on what matters.  My heartfelt appreciation goes out to all the teachers, community members, parents, and players (past, present, and future) that have bought into our philosophy of Granville football.  The comments, the unwavering support, and the theme of ‘Family’ completely validates what we have done over our tenure.  We are extremely grateful and moved that our ‘Family’ had a voice and that this voice was listened to.  We could not be prouder! I did not attend the meeting last evening as I did not want my presence to take away from what the kids and the community were doing.  This has never been about any one individual, this is our kids’ program.  We have always told our young men to stick together, stand in the face of adversity, and have a voice.  I believe last evening that happened and because of that, they will be better prepared for their future.  We love every one of our players as if they are our own, and would do anything for them now and in the future.  A successful football program is fostered by a supportive school administration, dedicated student-athletes, and an embracing community.  We will continue to strive to mesh the three so that our young men can benefit. We are excited to get to work and feel as though we have a lot to prove.  We have a lot of things going on this off-season and will be working tirelessly to put a quality product on the field for 2016.  Our doors are open to anyone wishing to participate in football.  You can find information about upcoming events, camps, and AAU on our Friends of Granville Football Facebook page. Once again from the bottom of our heart, thank you!”

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