Link to Fox 9 Article:
It saddens me to have to share with you that right or wrong, for better or for worse, the Cannon Falls school board has decided not to renew the contract of head coach, Madi Salisbury. While this issue is very close to my heart as a former coach of the BDT – I was hoping that this would be something we wouldn’t have to talk about here. Unfortunately, in this world of fast paced news and US weekly magazines, privacy and discretion just don’t happen anymore. And so I feel the need to address it, with their permission in an opinion piece:
First let me help clarify some facts as I know them talking to the coaches and dancers involved. The BDT has a tradition of a summer “lock-in” at the school for the 50 or so students to have some fun together. The upperclassmen of the team thought it would be a fun activity to be “scared” or “spooked” this year – haunted house style. The coaches took that idea and delegated some of it to another Cannon Falls teacher who was willing to help with the event. That otherwise trustworthy adult created the idea, instigated the purchase of toy guns, and got volunteer help to bring the toys as part of the “spooking” activities. To my knowledge, the coaching staff did not know about the plan to have toy guns, did not participate in the using of said toys, and did not condone their use once they knew about it. After stopping the “prank” – the coaches assessed the situation and the girls appeared to be calm and unharmed. The night continued without incident and the next day they had a family BBQ party where not a single dancer or parent mentioned the incident to the coaches or to the school administration – either publically or privately.
3 weeks pass – and nothing has been said by anyone to the school or coaches. The coaches also downplayed the event and moved on, without bringing it up to further issue with the school administration. Coaches took vacations; plans went on for the girls to get ready to go back to school. Then, last Thursday things took a turn with complaints about the incident being brought to the Superintendent and board. (And not to the coaches or AD) The school then took many interviews with dancers and coaches about the event, and decided to recommend terminating the teacher in question, as well as coach Madi. The school then never communicated anything officially about the incident or the intended course of action with the team or community, but rather added Madi’s non-renewal to a regular board meeting held last night, Monday 8/25. Without taking public comments on the issue, the board retreated to a private room to discuss the issue and voted on her dismissal with a 5 to 1 vote. The board cites a “zero tolerance policy” for real or fake weapons as the reason for dismissal. Further action that can be taken by either side at this time is still undetermined.
Personally, watching this board meeting take place was one of the low points I’ve had as an educator and coach. While a result like this isn’t necessarily surprising, it certainly was hurting the wrong people. Watching the dancers support their coaches and the sound of their tears was enough to shake me for a long time to come. I’d like to commend the Cannon girls for their strength and humble attitude in the moment. I’m proud to share with you that they never once mentioned “winning” or “success” or “competitiveness” in why they wanted Madi to stay. What they cared about was their mentor, leader, and guide being gone from them. They should be so proud of how they handled themselves and represented dance team as a whole. The board on the other hand I was not impressed with. This decision is all nice and neat isn’t it? Makes adults and rule makers happy doesn’t it? But the board has to rule on these “zero tolerance” issues because every case has a line of responsibility that needs to be drawn, and they mishandled that trust. I see a few issues with the decision that impact the dance community going ahead:
1) How can someone who didn’t plan, didn’t execute, and didn’t condone the behavior be responsible for it to this kind of level? Certainly, looking back, the staff should have reported this issue right away, and made it a big deal even if it wasn’t at the time. I think it’s hard for coaches who are so used to calming things down, putting out fires, and minimizing crisis to suddenly flip that and instigate an issue and cause trouble for another staffer. I can see where this could have happened, especially in the summer when I can’t get my AD to send me a one line email, much less answer the phone at 1am. This is the one area where I think the coaches had a failure – it should have been a big deal and communicated as such. Discipline can and should be a part of the discussion here – but termination? I’m not convinced.
2) How could something this “big” to the girls have 3 weeks go by without a peep? I’ve had much smaller incidents at a practice where I don’t even hit my car before I have a phone call about it. With the parents and dancers all present the next day at a team event – how could this have not been mentioned by anyone if it was so awful? It doesn’t pass the smell test for me – there are some underlying issues as to whom, when, and why this issue was brought forward in the way it was. It’s not my place to elaborate or accuse here, but the lapse of time is a fact I struggle to ignore. If there was any fear in bringing it up, then that’s yet another layer in this mess that begs to ask why.
3) For some girls — this was scary, and that needed to be handled delicately. I in no way want to undermine anyone who feels upset about the incident in this article– you have the right and everyone I spoke to about the incident was completely supportive of the fact that this was wrong and scary. The seriousness of the topic is not taken lightly by anyone involved and I was glad to see that. I am critical however of how the adults did not take strides (in all cases at least) to instill calm and help the girls move past the event emotionally– leaving the squabbling to the adults alone. The Cannon district should have stopped the rumor mill with official communication, and they did not. There was a learning opportunity and a chance to protect the girls here, and it didn’t happen because their feelings needed to be dragged out for adult purposes on both sides.
4) Being right and doing the right thing are not always the same. A decision like this makes the board “right”, when they really had an opportunity to do the right thing instead. Anyone in this business knows what this kind of event does to the kids, the future of the program, even the future of the season. The punishment does not fit the crime here when you know what this has done to the students. If the coaches were in any way unfit role models or a source of fear and anxiety going ahead, then Madi would be the first one to step away. The dancers spoke to the fact that that is simply not true. They want to move on; they want to have their family intact. What they got instead was a lot of adult noise and frustration pushing on this to make it a big deal, and more traumatizing than it needed to be.
So I have to ask myself now what this means for coaches everywhere. This could have been me, it could have been your team, and it certainly isn’t going away as a fluke. One of our readers here put it so well – Am I now responsible for what I don’t know about, as well as what I do? In this case, the answer appears to be yes.
I think we can learn so much as teams here about the most “seemingly innocent” plans going astray. Fun isn’t really what it used to be, and caution is the word of the day. While administering our teams more professionally is an easy fix, what isn’t so easy to understand is how we plan to treat our coaches going ahead. When does a school or a parent group have your back or not? Where is there understanding of the humanity and character of these wonderful people who give and give to kids? In my 12 years coaching, it’s only gotten more and more impossible to please everyone or even to hold on to a job. Now you have to be successful, have infinite time, be organized, dot every “I” and cross every “T” so you don’t make a slip. Sensitivity to a coaches’ every move is at an all time high everywhere I look. Even if you do that, and have a job next year, all it takes is one person speaking to the coach like “the girl at the drive-thru window who forgot your fries” to make it all seem…..not so great.
So hold each other close dance teamers — watch your actions and your words. Appreciate what you have every single day, and know that you have to live in a political world, even if you lead with the heart. No matter what happens or how things may fall apart for teams all across the state, there is nothing you can’t do and there is no test you cannot withstand – if you do it together and in love. All my love to the Bomber Dance Team – you girls are a treasure!