NEGAUNEE - Current and former Negaunee High School varsity girls basketball players spoke out in support of their coach, Gregg Nelson, at Monday's regular board of education meeting, fearing Nelson would not be reinstated as coach following an incident in March.
The coaching position was not addressed by the board during the meeting, but roughly a half dozen of the team members, as well as Nelson's wife, Betty, and the father of one of the athletes all spoke in support of Nelson during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"I don't think he should be punished for sticking up for what was right," said team member Adalyn Etelamaki.
Etelamaki said she had been bullied by several other team members between the time the team began practicing together in the summer of 2011 until March, when she and the others who spoke at the meeting said Nelson had chastised the team for their behavior. Those who spoke at the meeting said Nelson had cursed at the team during that locker room discussion, leading to their fears he would not be reinstated.
"We all swear, all of us," Etelamaki said. "I'm sure many of you have sworn at your kids...
"It was about time someone stuck up for me."
Few who spoke in support of Nelson were able to do so with dry eyes.
"I wouldn't be the player I am today if I didn't learn all the things he has taught me the past few years. I wouldn't be talking here now if I didn't want him to be my coach my senior year," said team member Jordyn LaFreniere.
Scott Etelamaki, father of Adalyn, also spoke in support of Nelson, suggesting the way to counter bullying in the district is to educate students and parents.
"Educate the kids, when someone sees bullying, take care of it. Teach and educate students and parents," Scott Etelamaki said. "Bullying should be able to be reported by anyone, not just the person being bullied."
Several of those who spoke during the meeting mentioned a complaint that had been filed against Nelson by one of the other team member's families following the incident, giving rise to their concerns over Nelson's reinstatement as coach.
The board took no action on the coaching position and did not respond to the comments made.
Following the meeting, Superintendent Jim Derocher said he was not able to comment on the matter, but did say the board had recently switched from a third-party firm - North Star Staffing - responsible for hiring non-staff coaches to hiring the coaches directly. All non-staff coaches currently in place will all have to reapply for their positions. The district is currently in the middle of that application process, he said.
"I can't tell you who's going to be reappointed," Derocher said.
The switch was originally made to use North Star Staffing several years ago as a money-saving option, Derocher said, but with potential changes coming from the state as to how staff retirement is funded, the board decided to move the hiring of coaches back in house.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.