Players protest coach’s resignation
December 14, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Football players taped up fliers Thursday throughout the halls of Aspen High, showing a picture of their former coach next to the words “Benson or Bust.” Among teachers, there was a quiet movement to boycott the district’s holiday party Saturday night.After Travis Benson resigned Monday night, students and teachers at the high school are still looking for answers as to why a well-liked coach felt pressure from administrators to step away. Many of them are angry.”The kids are upset,” said Dan Vesper, a teacher and assistant volleyball and baseball coach at the high school. “They’re almost beyond upset. They’ve been talking with me about it, and I know they’ve been talking with each other about it.”Rory Suma, a senior who played under Benson, said one of his friends brought the fliers to school Thursday morning and passed them out to teammates, who then taped them up on lockers, walls and doors. Suma put up fliers around the school district’s administrative offices and watched as staff tore them down. He later went back and taped up more.
Tucker Eason, a junior running back, said he didn’t know who made the fliers but said he put some up when he was handed a stack. Any way to show the school’s administration how upset Benson’s players are was a good thing, Eason said. He echoed the sentiments of a number of teammates who felt the actions of Superintendent Diana Sirko, Principal Charlie Anastas and Athletic Director Carol Sams didn’t take them into consideration.”I just want to figure out what’s going on and talk about coach’s decision, and whether it was a decision and how it was brought about and why,” Eason said. “It was very abrupt on our part. We didn’t know anything until a couple days ago. Usually, there’s supposed to be some coaching evaluation by the administration and the kids, and I think we should probably have the biggest input. I’m just trying to look through this whole thing right now and figure out what is happening.”Benson resigned after a meeting with Sirko, Anastas and Sams at which all three administrators floated the idea that Sirko’s husband, Mike – a decorated high school football coach – would come to Aspen to mentor Benson. Under the proposal, Benson would keep his salary but work under Sirko’s husband as assistant head coach.Sirko said the proposition arose because of concerns parents voiced to her.She maintains that Benson had leverage to say no to what was discussed in the meeting. Benson reiterated in an interview Thursday that the proposal put him in an awkward position – one in which the best solution was to walk away. (See related story).
“My sense of frustration, sadness and anger about the whole situation comes from the style in which it was discussed,” Benson said. “I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask if I’ve been treated in a fair manner. Maybe I did need help, maybe there were concerns, but the first issue is that those concerns were never brought to me [before the meeting], and the second is that I wasn’t given fair input how to address those concerns. I can work with someone when I’m given fair input, not when ideas are being pushed at me.”After Benson’s resignation, high school teachers demanded a meeting with Sirko and Anastas for what they felt was an unjust ouster. Sams was out of town on school business Tuesday.Vesper said there are still lingering frustrations from teachers and staff who feel Sirko and Anastas weren’t completely forthright during the two-hour discussion.Another district teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said the fallout from Benson’s resignation has angered so many teachers that notes have circulated among staff to boycott the district party Saturday night at Bumps.”I don’t think it’s just the teachers, I think the kids want answers and I think the community, now that it’s been out in the paper, wants answers,” Vesper said. “It’s the kind of thing where it’s definitely not over. The only thing that was discussed was that we should not express any of our anger with or toward the school district around the kids. It’s been tough for me to hold back, I’ll tell you that.”Zac Giammarrusco, a senior who played under Benson the past two seasons, said a number of football players have even threatened not to play under a new coach next season.
Players have also discussed making T-shirts and other methods of protest. Like a number of players, Giammarrusco wants a meeting with school administrators and his coach – to get answers from both sides. “I think he’s a good guy and I don’t think he deserves this,” Giammarrusco said. “We’re confused why something happened like this out of nowhere.”Giammarrusco, Eason and Suma all said they didn’t know who the parents were who addressed Sirko – or how many complaints they lodged. “It’s parents who don’t know anything about football and just care about the win,” Giammarrusco said. “It can’t be very many. All the football kids, they like Benson. They think he’s a good guy.””I think, you know, that it’s some of the parents that put money in the field who expected more out of the team this year,” Suma said. “I think they were disappointed what happened this year. But we got fourth in conference and won three games, a year after we only won one game against a nonconference team.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org