Kudos to Anaconda for silencing the squeaky wheels

An overflow crowd crammed into the small room where the Butte school board trustees meet one afternoon in the spring of 2003.

Nearly everyone in the crowd was there to support embattled boys’ basketball coach John Thatcher, who was about to be fired by school board trustees who were listening to the squeaky wheel.

Before the meeting, some members of the basketball team went door to door to visit the trustees at their homes to plead with them not to fire the coach after three seasons. The board seemed destined to “can” the coach anyway because some outspoken and very determined Thatcher opponents had allies with seats at the big table.

The large crowd was enough to change some minds, though, and the trustees reluctantly agreed to keep Thatcher on as coach.

The next year Butte had another huge crowd. This time it was in Missoula for the Class AA State championship game.

Butte High didn’t win that game, but it’s fair to say that the Bulldogs probably would not have advanced that far if the majority didn’t stand up to the vocal minority that too often tears down good coaches.

That scene basically repeated itself last week in Anaconda when the majority spoke out to save the job of boys’ basketball coach Bill Hill, who has led the Copperheads for just three seasons.

The squeaky wheel had Hill on the chopping block, and at a time of year when it is nearly impossible to do a search for and find a solid replacement, too.

Even the justifiable dismissal of a coach in mid-June would be devastating for a program because any outside candidates are already locked into their jobs for the 2015-16 school year.

Parents of high school athletes campaigning to get a coach fired is nothing new. Neither is seeing those parents get elected to school boards or find influence over those on the boards. It has been happening for decades now, and the unhappy parents have been winning.

The outspoken minority has a better winning percentage than the St. Louis Cardinals, and they have apparently been cheating.

Generation X, it seems, has taken this parental griping to the next level. Seeing the way some of my former classmates bemoan about the coach of their child’s team has really become a downside of covering high school sports in my hometown.

I thought we would have known better. Sure, most of us do, but too many don’t.

The constant griping from parents about coaches has rendered the opinion of any parent almost meaningless in my eyes. The complaining goes on so much, that even the most trustworthy gripers have become void of all credibility.

I just give my best Heisman pose every time I hear a parent try to explain why, this time, the coach really is evil. Call it the crying wolf syndrome, but I just don’t believe any of them anymore.

Coaches who put in the long hours and put their reputations and often their family on the line for the betterment of high school athletes deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Now, I’m not saying Bill Hill doesn’t deserve criticism.

In fact, I have a feeling the polarizing Anaconda figure was one of those parents who made the lives of coaches in Anaconda more difficult not too many years ago.

Of course, we all know that time-honored saying about two wrongs.

I’m also not saying Hill is the nicest guy in the word. I know many people seem to think the contrary. All I know is he has always been quite pleasant to me.

The same could be said of Thatcher. Neither coach is interested in winning a popularity contest, however. Their job isn’t to feel your pain.

Like the people calling for Hill’s dismissal, I am not qualified to judge his game-day coaching. But I know a lot of coaches who are. Much like with Thatcher’s team in 2003, most of those coaches have been impressed with how competitive Hill’s ultra-young teams have been the past three seasons.

Yet, the activities director, for reasons he wouldn’t or couldn’t say, recommended against retaining Hill to the school board. It was yet another major victory for the vocal minority.

That is, until the majority spoke up in force last Wednesday night, filling the meeting room of the Anaconda school board to make an impassioned plea for the board to do the right thing.

It did. While it seemed like a slam dunk that Hill would get the axe, the board voted 4-2 to keep the coach. Score one for coaches everywhere.

Unless there are some serious issues that come up from someone other than an overzealous parent, every high school coach should be given more than three years to establish a program. In case you haven’t noticed — and many school boards haven’t — the Al Davis-Daniel Snyder model doesn’t work.

Thatcher certainly established a program after his near dismissal. He took the Bulldogs to the title game again in 2007, and he gave Butte High fans a solid run of very good teams.

Hill might not take the Copperheads to multiple title games, but I bet the Copperheads will be contenders in the Class B next season. They probably would contend in the Class A under Hill had the school not moved down a level after this past school year.

At least now, Hill will get a chance to compete for a spot in that title game.

It is an opportunity afforded to the coach because the people of Anaconda, like the people of Butte 12 years ago, stood up and told the squeaky wheel to shut the hell up.

— Bill Foley, who knows what it is like to be told to shut the hell up, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 1 comment

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1 Comment

  • Ted Richards
    June 23, 2015, 7:34 am

    You are very right. Give these coaches a chance all the good programs usually have coaches established with their program in place. The great coaches who can win early usually leave early for a better job.


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