MONTE VISTA— The Thursday, May 11 Monte Vista School Board meeting was moved to the MVHS band room, which attendees still packed with all the available chairs full and many more lined up along the walls. The majority of the board meeting was spent hearing the concerns of current, former and potential boys basketball players with their parents and grandparents.
Around 20 students and parents spoke, with more than 20 other players and family members in attendance showing evident solidarity with the speakers. The parents and athletes alleged that boys basketball coach Robert Siemering bullies his players, punishes team members inconsistently and unfairly and excessively yells at, harasses and berates players. One student claimed Siemering “uses fear and intimidation” as a regular coaching tactic. Almost every student or parent who spoke stated that they or their child would no longer be playing basketball next year, and at least six speakers expressed clearly that they or their child would be leaving the school district for neighboring districts entirely if Siemering remained basketball coach in Monte Vista. Many of the parents expressed doing so regretfully as they were former students themselves, appreciated all other aspects of their child’s education or had other students currently attending the district that they did not wish to transfer.
The first player to speak, Mike Savala, expressed how he was originally “excited to play a sport that I loved” but “this program lowered my self-esteem” due to Siemering’s coaching style. Savala also admitted that he and a group of other players got into trouble, but he later found that he was the only student to face the consequence of being kicked off the team as he was the only JV player in the group. Parent Corey Garcia spoke about his son Darius, who came home from practice every day either seriously upset or “just beat down.” Garcia explained that he observed how in one instance his son had gone against the coach’s instructions and “ran a man-to-man play when the defense was in zone” and he observed Siemering yelling at Darius like he never has, even as his father. Darius Garcia later confirmed his father’s statements, adding “he broke me down to the lowest point, and if he is still coach, I won’t be attending.” John Chavez, another parent, expressed how his son also lost his drive to play due to the constant berating of Siemering.
Former Assistant Coach Phinel Garcia spoke to the board, stating that his recent resignation was due in part to the behavior of coach Siemering, stating that “he abused his powers as a coach” and was often “bullying.” Garcia read a letter written by Del Norte basketball coach Gene Glover recalling a recent game between the two teams, stating that “both teams were well behaved and the fans had fun” throughout the game, but when player Jaden Wilson did not shake Siemering’s hand at the end of the game, he followed Wilson around yelling at him in front of everybody, demanding that Wilson shake his hand. Glover made it clear by the end of his letter that the two teams would not be playing one another again as long as Siemering remains Monte Vista’s coach.
Parent Theresa Valdez spoke about an incident where her student was injured at an away game. She stated that Siemering told another game attendee that she had been contacted regarding the injury and had opted not to seek immediate treatment. Valdez stated that she was never called that night, and in addition to the team not getting back to Monte Vista until 5:30 the next morning due to inclement weather, her son returned with an eye injury, bleeding in his eye, that required a trip to the hospital and treatment by a specialist. “He put my son at risk,” she stated, adding that the coach was also known among the players and parents for punishing kids for missing practices, even when the absences were previously approved. “He was dishonest and controlling,” Valdez concluded by stating that her son will not play basketball anymore.
Many other parents and players echoed these claims, adding “we felt as if we weren’t treated with respect” and stated that they became depressed and disillusioned with sports after playing under Siemering. Sandra Dominguez added that he kept players practicing until 8:30 or 9 at night even though they had homework and other responsibilities to attend to. Joe Dominguez added that he understands how coaching is hard, but “you can’t browbeat kids. Sports are supposed to enhance the abilities of kids.” Another parent alleged that not only was Siemering punishing students for being multiple-sport athletes, he would send other team members to tell her son that he wasn’t allowed to attend certain tournaments which was embarrassing and divisive to do to team members.
Parent Jamie Wilson spoke about the incident with her son that Phinel Garcia had originally addressed, adding that her son did in fact shake Siemering’s hand, but still got yelled at “at the top of his lungs.” Her son transferred to Del Norte, and Wilson sent a letter to Greg Jones, athletic director and Robert Webb, superintendent, outlining her concerns about the basketball team and Siemering. Wilson stated that her letter was never responded to, but somehow was turned into administration at Del Norte and her son’s transfer was labeled as athletic, preventing him from playing for another year. She also added that due in part to Siemering having “broke him [her son] down” and harassing him, her son was diagnosed with Autonomic Dysfunction.
Siemering and his wife were in attendance but did not speak at the meeting. Board President Dr. Matt Nehring addressed the concerned attendees, “We take this very seriously, but just as it took you some time to realize what was going on, it will take us some time to get to the bottom of this… We will work to make sure we understand what is going on and don’t lose students… this is a very emotional matter and we aren’t going to make any decisions at this meeting.” Nehring proposed that two board members (in order to avoid sunshine law problems), volunteering himself and Gary Wilkinson as the latter has the most coaching experience, to meet with three parent representatives of the concerned group at a follow-up meeting. Nehring stated that since the students had expressed concerns about potential retaliation, it would be best to not include students in the meeting for the time being. The board allowed for a brief recess so the group of parents could convene outside and determine who they would nominate. They returned and expressed that they did not wish to handle the matter that way, as they hoped that roughly 26 players refusing to play should be significant enough for the board to realize the seriousness of the issue. Nehring assured them that the board did take the matter seriously but needed the committee process in order to formulate a plan.
The parents met in the cafeteria and discussed their concerns, asking if the board was really taking the matter seriously but expressing disappointment and apprehension at having to choose transferring their students out of the district, discussing how the players had been in school and on teams together for years, and many had a lot of pride in the district. They agreed to put together as much documentation as possible to bring to the Friday meeting and have the boys write a letter as a team. They brought the compromise back into the board room, and Nehring agreed to meet with them following the rest of the meeting, as the board had by that time moved on to other business on the agenda.
Meeting with the parents following the board meeting, Nehring assured them that “we’re not going to sweep this under the rug; we don’t find that kind of behavior to be acceptable… it does trouble me and it bothers us [the board].” Nehring stated that the board is formulating a plan on how to deal with the issue but stated that the first step in the timeline was the Friday meeting, but assured the group that the timeline would be reasonable. He acknowledged that the problem had been building but stated that “this week is the first time I have heard about it.” He also thanked the concerned parents for following the correct process, “the board is here to listen, we’re your elected officials… you’ve done your due diligence.”
Friday meeting with parents
The parents who attended the Friday evening meeting stated that they feel like the board is taking the matter seriously; they listened to the other letters and concerns that were not expressed at Thursday’s meeting. When asked for comment on behalf of the school board, Nehring added, “The board takes this matter seriously, and we are committed to proceeding in a manner that is fair to everyone involved: the players, the families, as well as Mr. Siemering. Any decisions or actions that the board ultimately makes will be after gathering appropriate information from those involved. The board cannot take any action except in a properly noticed board meeting, the next of which is scheduled for May 25. While I would be grateful for resolution of the matter by that time, I cannot guarantee that the investigation and fact-finding will be concluded by then.”