SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
What a strange way to lose a football coach. Coaches come and coaches go, but the departure of Hillsboro High School football coach Dustin McEwen was not your typical departure.

He wasn’t asked to resign because of a lack of success; his record was a sparkling 53-28 in eight seasons. And as far as I know, he didn’t have a burning desire to leave.

But he left.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. I say “blame” partly in jest. Let’s just say circumstances forced McEwen and his wife, Sunshine, to make the difficult decision to pull up roots and leave.

If parents were having larger families in Hillsboro, it’s safe to say that Coach McEwen would still be teaching and coaching in Hillsboro next fall.

But alas, smaller families means not as many teachers are needed in the classroom. And with fewer kids in school (and thus less state aid coming in), Sunshine, like some other teachers, became expendable at Hillsboro Elementary School.

The problem, however, is far from elementary.

Being a good teacher is no guarantee of job security these days.

Declining enrollment and budget problems leave many young teachers uncertain whether their positions will exist in the next school year.

Or, if business in town was better and industry was growing, new jobs would be created, resulting in more families moving to town and more kids in school.

But under the circumstances, the McEwens were caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Rather than stay in Hillsboro and face an uncertain teaching future, they looked elsewhere.

The result is that Hillsboro’s loss is Cheney’s gain.

Athletics and academics present a delicate balancing act for school districts. That fact may speak to the overemphasis of athletics, but that’s America.

Academics rightly comes first. But athletics is what the public sees, and it’s what people are more likely to talk about. We care about academics, but we care passionately about our athletic teams.

It’s easy to talk about Johnny scoring 25 points in a basketball game because people attend games. Not many working adults have the luxury of sitting in a classroom and observing what is being taught.

So academics is not a popular topic of conversation except between children and their parents.

Newspapers face a difficult challenge. How do you write about someone who excels in the classroom? A reporter might attend a class and write, “Susie made some great observations in literature class today. Her analysis of William Shakespeare’s writing was profound for a 16-year-old student, according to her instructor.”

At the end of the season we know how our athletic teams performed. We debate whether our teams played up to their potential, but the record is there for all to see in black and white.

It takes much longer before we know how successful our schools are at preparing students for college, and ultimately for life.

Schools need a lot of coaches for their many athletic teams. When an opening exists, schools can hire from within or look to hire an external candidate.

Of course, the external candidate must have teaching credentials in an academic area where the school has an opening.

And in smaller school districts like Hillsboro’s, the number of teaching openings isn’t as great as in larger schools, and finding the best teacher/coach is more difficult.

The reason for Hillsboro’s loss of a quality football coach appears to be obvious, but it’s really rather complex.

* * *

From the publication Sports Illustrated on Campus comes this creative tidbit. It might be an urban legend, but we still think it’s clever.

One winter an MIT student crossed the Charles River and entered Harvard Stadium. Adorned in a black-and-white-striped shirt, he casually strolled to midfield, blew a whistle and spread birdseed on the ground. He continued this routine throughout the spring and summer, conditioning the birds á la Pavlov.

During Harvard’s first football game the ref blew the whistle, kicking off the new season and giving thousands of hungry pigeons their cue to storm the field.

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