By Kyle Shaner
BRADFORD — Concerns about low numbers of players in the Bradford football program has led to disputes among administrators, coaches and parents about the future of the team and the school, records obtained through a public records request show.
In more than 100 pages of emails and other documents from July and August, administrators and community members considered options for the 2014 Bradford high school and junior high football teams while also discussing possible ramifications for the program, other sports and the school in general.
Records indicate that former Bradford varsity football coach Curtis Enis resigned this month as a result of a dispute about playing varsity football this season. Enis declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday while Athletic Director Dusty Yingst and school board members could not be reached for comment.
Emails state that Enis, Yingst and others supported a plan to play a junior varsity schedule this season while Board of Education members pushed for playing a varsity schedule.
“It is no secret that I am so frustrated with the way things were handled by our administration. I think that the decision was made to go forward and that’s how it should have stayed. I don’t get where things started going backwards. I feel that there was never any intention to move forward with our decision. I told John last night that I feel we were being slapped in the face and I don’t appreciate it,” Board of Education Vice President Maria Brewer wrote to other school board members on Aug. 12. “I still have no idea why we don’t have a coach. WE NEED LEADERSHIP! I think this all could have been prevented with good leadership. I believe it is all in the presentation. Of course they will want a JV squad now that they know from the meeting last night that the coaches aren’t on board with Varsity. Why are we still on opposite sides of our administration? Why does Dusty think he can undermine our decision and change it? Why do I feel like they all don’t support our decision and are now getting people to join them so we will change it?”
Concerns about the football program began in July, records show.
In an email to other Cross County Conference athletic directors on July 30, Yingst stated Bradford began the summer expecting 25 to 30 players in its high school football program. However, once team activities began, coaches only had 14 to 17 players.
On Aug. 1, Bradford had 20 players — one senior, seven juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen — on its football team.
“We told the boys that it is most likely going to be a JV schedule. Yes we have 19 or 20 boys, but we don’t have 19 or 20 boys that are ready for Varsity football,” Yingst wrote to school board members on Aug. 1.
Three days later, in an email to Yingst, Enis — who twice was named the Division VI Ohio football Coach of the Year by The Associated Press — resigned as Bradford’s football coach.
“After careful thought and consideration, I have decided to resign from my position as Head Varsity Football coach with Bradford Exempted Village School District effect August 4, 2014,” Enis wrote.
“I’d like to thank you, the Superintendent and the Board of Education for providing me with an opportunity to develop my skill as a head football coach and while gaining a unique coaching experience.
“I would like to also say thanks to the entire team, staff and community of Bradford for giving me a chance to coach and wish the team best of luck in the future.”
That same day, High School Principal PJ Burgett expressed his gratitude to Enis, who in 2012 led the Railroaders to their first winning season in 18 years and their first Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff appearance in 30 years.
“I personally appreciate all that you have done to move Bradford football forward. You have made it a personal mission to use football as a catalyst to teach young men about life. I hope you continue to do this and thank you for your dedication to Bradford Schools and the Bradford Community. Your leadership will be missed,” Burgett wrote to Enis.
Three days later, Bradford was down to 16 players, having lost its lone senior, a junior and two sophomores. The junior high program at that time also was averaging just seven players per practice.
“I have received some calls from parents that are concerned and could possibly remove their kids from the team if we keep the varsity status,” Yingst wrote on Aug. 6 to other CCC schools.
The concern about low numbers resulted in Bradford holding meetings, sending out surveys and going door to door to get feedback about its program.
“PJ will be making contact with all of the ones who are eligible to play to try to see if they are interested in coming out or at least gathering info on why they don’t want to play. We have already made two one-calls about varsity football practice and have had a parent meeting. Every effort is being made to get students to come out to be part of the team,” Superintendent John Stekli wrote on Aug. 7.
Responses gathered by Burgett show a number of reasons why high school football players quit, ranging from injuries, job opportunities, disputes among players and Enis’ resignation. Names were redacted by the school because of personal student information to comply with Ohio Revised Code.
One player cited opportunities through Upper Valley Career Center, the fair and an internship along with displeasure about the state of the program.
“Upset with how last season ended, but always said he would only play for Coach Enis.”
Another player cited injuries and complaints about the 2013 season, a season in which Bradford went 0-10.
“Wants to play basketball and does not want to hurt his back. (Redacted) and him not getting a varsity B for not having enough quarters left a bad taste in his mouth. There was cancer on the team last year and the coaches let them get away with it (specific seniors). Cancer on the team ruined it for kids last year.”
Another also cited injuries as a concern.
“2 concussions. One more and he is done. Still feels lasting effects. Wants to focus on basketball. Nothing to do with coaches.”
Another player moved to Piqua and was concerned about making it to and from practices.
“Living in Piqua now. Be hard for him to get practice every day.”
Another response expressed concerns about playing a varsity season this year.
“If you are playing a varsity program I would make (redacted) quit. You are going to get people hurt and that is wrong. You are going to destroy the program. Phantom injuries, kids hurt all year. Hard for seniors and juniors, but if you do this you are going to get people killed, hurt. You are only doing this for financial reasons.”
Emails do show that financial considerations went into the decision. Board of Education members were concerned a loss of football revenue would hurt other athletics programs and could lead to students leaving the school district.
“Am I the only one that sees this as an emergency? Do we realize we start losing kids to open enrollment over football that we will lose money and when we lose money we lose staff and it goes on and on? A greater sense of panic needs to be happening. Right now. Doors need to be beaten down, whatever it takes,” Board of Education member Jay Roberts wrote to Yingst and other school board members on Aug. 7. “Call it babying the kids, call it whatever you want, but realize the damage that will happen if these teams fall apart.”
Vice President Brewer also wrote about financial concerns.
“We are obviously going to be hurting for money in the sports program without football so we will have to make cuts. I hate cutting coaching positions but there is no reason to have so many coaches and only a handful of kids. If the coaches are concerned about losing their jobs they are going to have to recruit more players. That sounds mean but it is about the $, and at this rate we will be broke,” Brewer wrote on Aug. 15. “If we start losing our sports programs we are going to start losing our students too.”
While school administrators tried to decide how to proceed with the football program, community members were not in consensus about what should be done either.
Some blamed Enis and Yingst for pushing for a junior varsity season.
“This year the football season was hijacked by Curtis and Dusty. They acted totally unprofessional with the decision to inform the team that they were not going to play at the varsity level. They had neither the authority or information to make the decision in the first place. Curtis further exacerbated the issue by telling the team that he resigned for them. These impressionable young men and obviously the coaches now believe that they will get hurt playing a varsity schedule. If you truly care about the kids, you see them through and coach them to their potential. This is football, some of them will get hurt regardless,” an unidentified parent wrote to Stekli on Aug. 12. “Dr. Swabb is the (school board) president and I am sure that he as a doctor has the health and well being as the highest priority, as do all others, but he also has the best knowledge of football injuries to make good decision.”
Others wrote to support Enis and the idea of playing a junior varsity season.
“Two years ago when we had fifteen students come out for the 7th and 8th grade team, the board made a decision to cancel the season because of safety concerns. This year the board made the opposite decision against the judgment of the head coach with just a few more players but a much greater talent disparity. I would be very disappointed if the team was unable to play at the varsity level this year but I would defer to the expert in the matter who had the students health and well being as the priority. Curtis Enis knows this team and the opposing teams well enough that I trust his judgment. I think (redacted) is ready for varsity but if Curtis did not think the team was ready the board should have listened to him rather than accept his resignation. The only difference I see between the Jr high season being cancelled and the varsity season being cancelled is revenues. (Redacted) told me that as much as he wants to play varsity, he would rather play JV with coach Enis than varsity without him,” an unidentified person wrote to Stekli and Burgett on Aug. 6.
Another parent wrote that he didn’t want his son to play football this year if Bradford fields a varsity team.
“I know coach Enis has resigned. I know he felt the boys weren’t ready to play a varsity schedule and did not believe it was safe. From speaking with (redacted) I believe you shared the same thoughts as coach Enis. I’m sure by talking with some of the other parents and players I’m not the only one concerned,” an unidentified father wrote to Yingst in an email that was forwarded to Stekli and Burgett on Aug. 8. “I know that football is a contact sport and injuries happen but if the Head coach that has been coaching these kids feels it is unsafe and resigns due to the matter it throws up some red flags to us. If the decision stands on having a varsity schedule, We do not believe we will allow our son to participate.”
In response to the concerns, Bradford sought advice from the OHSAA, Troy Christian (which didn’t field a varsity team in 2012 because of low turnout) and other CCC schools.
The Railroaders, who will play a varsity schedule this season, considered options including forfeiting varsity games and just playing a junior varsity/freshman season. The option of completely canceling the football season was on the table but records show didn’t have support from any leaders.
Another option that didn’t come to fruition was to have junior high players join Covington’s program. However, on Aug. 12 Yingst wrote to other schools that the junior high program has at least 11 players, possibly 12 or 13, and will proceed for the 2014 season with a combined junior high team.
While Bradford is moving forward with a varsity and junior high football season, records never indicated that administrators had resolved their disagreements that have continued for weeks.
“I get tired of people constantly pointing fingers and making stuff up. It sure would be nice if we respected each other and weren’t constantly pointing fingers,” Brewer wrote on Aug. 6 to Yingst. “I know our decision is not going to make everyone happy and there will always be complaining but I try to make the best decision for all stakeholders. It sure would be nice if the administration team and the board could work collaboratively on things and respectfully agree to disagree. I hate the feeling that we are on two separate teams!”
Two days later Vice President Brewer again wrote to express similar thoughts.
“I am getting tired of assumptions and finger pointing. It is going to take a lot of positivity to pull this off. Constantly saying there is no way we can play varsity isn’t cutting it. If the coaches haven’t decided if they are staying then they don’t want to be there,” Brewer wrote on Aug. 8 to Yingst.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at (937) 569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports. For more features online go to advocate360.org or ‘like The Daily Advocate’ on Facebook by searching Advocate360.