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Potsdam eyes coaching battle over boys basketball vacancy

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POTSDAM - It’s five months before the 2014-15 edition of the Potsdam High School varsity basketball team will take the court for their first official practice, but more than 20 students and parents attended Tuesday night’s board of education meeting to lobby for the hiring of a former SUNY Potsdam men’s basketball coach to take over the team.

There are reportedly two candidates for the vacant coaching post - Bill Mitchell and an internal candidate that teaches at Potsdam High School.

District officials did not say who the internal candidate was, but student athletes in attendance at the meeting identified him as Geoffrey Coleman, who teaches math in the high school. Mr. Coleman was selected by seniors to be the speaker at the 2013 high school graduation.

When asked what would happen if Mr. Coleman was hired rather than Mr. Mitchell, Drew Stevens, a junior, said he thinks some people would elect not to play. “I think a few of us would stop playing,” he said.

Connor Prosper, who will be a junior next year, said returning members of the team would get together and make a decision that he feels the majority of them would adhere to. “The team would make a collective decision on whether or not we would continue to play for this other coach,” he said.

Those comments came from the hallways of the high school and outside earshot of board members and administrators, as students were preparing the leave the meeting.

Mr. Prosper, Mr. Stevens and a third student, also a junior, DeQuan Pitts, each spoke during the meeting, offering their support for Mr. Mitchell,

“With our hours of practice and playing in games, we should have some voice in our future,” Mr. Prosper said. “Our efforts should count for something.”

Mr. Stephens and Mr. Pitts said as they prepare to enter their senior years they want their final season at Potsdam to be as successful as possible. And they think the key to that success is Mr. Mitchell.

“Next year I’ll be a senior, and I want Potsdam basketball to be successful,” he said. “We already know we have had a lot of success with Bill Mitchell.”

Mr. Pitts said throughout the years he and his teammates have played for several coaches and Mr. Mitchell is one of the best.

“We have experience playing with multiple coaches, and we know who we play the best under,” he said. “We want our senior year to be as successful as possible.”

While he won’t be a senior next year, Mr. Prosper said he too wants to see the team succeed, and he agreed, Mr. Mitchell is the coach that could make that happen.

“Over the years he’s been our coach, and we think he knows our personalities better,” he said. “In our past tournaments and gamesm we seem to play better under him than with any other coach.”

Whomever receives the job will be replacing Brooks Bigwarfe, who stepped down following this pasr season. Mr. Mitchell was one of his assistants this past year. Mr. Mitchell is also a former SUNY Potsdam men’s basketball coach and was an assistant coach for legendant former SUNY Potsdam Coach Jerry Welch. Mr. Mitchell has also coached at the modified level at Potsdam Central.

Mr. Coleman is a longtime math teacher in the district, and the father of several young men who were standout athletes, both at Potsdam and Clarkson.

Also speaking at the meeting was Scott Langlois, who is the president of the Potsdam Youth Basketball Association. He succeeded Mr. Mitchell in that position.

Reading from a letter he had previously submitted to district officials, Mr. Langlois praised Mr. Mitchell calling him the only logical choice.

“I would like to recommend and put my full support for the next PCS boys varsity coach to be Bill Mitchell. He has a long history of being an influential coach in Potsdam,” he said. “From the time he worked under Jerry Welch, bringing a Division III National Championship to SUNY Potsdam to in recent years being an assistant to Steve Kmack, having two back to back state final championship runs for our varsity boys’ program.

“I would hope that you would recommend Bill Mitchell for the next head coach of the Potsdam boys’ varsity program. His dedication to the players and knowledge of the game make him the only logical choice.”

Recognizing that there were many members of the public in attendance to hear discussion on the coaching vacancy, the board altered its agenda to move the topic higher up its agenda.

“It’s not very often we have more than candidate for a position,” Potsdam Central Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said prior to introducing Athletic Director Mark Wilson to explain what goes into the hiring process when there is more than one candidate.

Citing state education law that goes back to 1974, Mr. Wilson said there are three tiers that measure a coach’s qualifications in the eyes of the state.

Certified physical education teachers stand at the top of the pyramid followed by other certified teacher and then non-teacher coaches.

Mr. Wilson said non-teacher coaches must apply to the state for a temporary coach’s license, which comes at a cost of $50 a year for three years. After three years, he said coaches my apply for a professional coaching license, which would be good for three years.

Coaches holding a professional coaching license, regardless of whether they are teachers or not, are treated as equals to certified teachers, he said. However, until that point, a “qualified” certified teacher would receive preference in the hiring process.

Mr. Wilson also explained the law provides no clear definition of qualified.

“I’m going off of what I’ve heard from other athletic directors who have gone through similar situations,” he said. “If the person has ever played or coached at any level, the state would side with them.”

During the evening’s second round of public comment, Mr. Langlois said he learned a great deal from Mr. Wilson’s presentation.

“We got a good deal of information from the athletic director so now we understand how this will go,” he said.

Mr. Brady said the hiring process, while bound by state legislation, will consist of a committee interviewing candidates who will then make a recommendation to the superintendent. Mr. Brady will then recommend a candidate to the board, who will make the final hiring decision.

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