Criticism for Sirko decision
December 14, 2006
Aspen, CO Colorado(This letter was originally addressed to Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko.)Unfortunately, I am writing to you under the most unpleasant of situations. I am typically not a letter writer, but what has happened this week at my former high school leaves me with such repulsion that I cannot stay quiet. As the former class president of 1995 and a friend of Travis Benson, I am not only shocked, but utterly appalled by the behavior you exhibited towards him and the decision you, let’s be honest here, forced him to make.I don’t know how they did things in Colorado Springs and your previous schools, but as a student of Aspen High School, let me give you a little background in what that school has always represented, strived for and, in my opinion, accomplished. I certainly hope you will see that you are in the process of destroying a system that is so special and unique that when I tell friends and colleagues in the east coast about my high school days they are not only impressed, but a bit jealous of what I had.The Aspen School District is an extremely tight-knit family. Not only did I attend preschool with over half of my graduating class, but I have always considered my teachers among my friends. More than 10 years after I graduated from the school district, I invited a few of my elementary school teachers to my wedding.Because of this tight-knit family, the Aspen School District has always been able to make personal growth, principles and values as important as your typical “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” skills. Programs like ex ed are a success because kids need to learn team-building and acceptance. Kids need confidence so they can succeed at whatever challenges they meet.Aspen High School athletics is not a stepping stone for college athletics and it certainly isn’t where professional athletes are groomed. Aspen athletics is a place where every kid gets to play no matter what – heck, sometimes if we can form a team we should be happy! I can count on two hands the students I know of who have made it even to the college level. Frankly, that is where most of them stop. I will admit (and you can certainly get many confirms of this) that I was THE worst basketball player on our team for four years. I didn’t learn any athletic skills in my days there, but what I learned were these life skills: People matter more than anything else. Golden Rule #1. If someone is hurt, you help him. If someone is sad, you comfort him. If someone is being put down, you defend him. Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect. What you may have done right today might be wrong tomorrow. Forgiveness. Goes hand in hand with the above, tomorrow you will need it as much as you needed to offer it today. Everyone deserves a chance. Sometimes the “best” player needs to sit out and give others a chance. No one knows what they are good at until they try. As long as you make it to practice and put in the effort, you will be given a chance. Teamwork. Goes without saying. In a world where you need and rely on others, knowing how to work with them, not against them, is the best skill. Confidence. I know I am not a WNBA player, but I will tell you I can give a presentation that will knock your socks off and that is because I was able to run up and down that court game after game in front of all those people. Know where your priorities lie. In a world where demands are made every second of the day and people are overwhelmed with the “small stuff,” the athletic department enforced that it is OK and your right to not only have fun, but to laugh at yourself.All of this leads me to Travis Benson. My class year, 1995, was the last year that football was offered at Aspen High School until, Travis Benson came back to organize and start the program again. There would be no football team today if Travis hadn’t the heart and the drive to start it back up. He fought for helmets, he fought for turf and he fought for lights. Every success that team has had is due to him and his dedication to the school and those kids. Every single success, including winning the Homecoming game, has Travis behind it.Further, there is no better mentor for those kids than Travis. It wasn’t so terribly long ago that he was in their shoes doing what they are doing. He understands the dynamics of the school and what should be accomplished when a kid leaves it. He teaches dedication, commitment, healthy lifestyles, teamwork, passion and compassion.Few individuals in this world have the values and principles that Travis has and those kids should be honored to have learned what he has taught. Travis coaches football for the love of the sport and the love of the kids. Anyone watching him from the sidelines can see the passion he holds. Sure, he is young and his coaching “career,” if you want call it that, needs improvement. Don’t we all need improvement? Travis himself would admit to needing improvement. Forcing him out of a position that he created, he put his heart into and that he was good at, however, was not the way to offer help or encourage improvement.Your motivations for this outrage are your own. If you are in it for the kids and the well-being of the school, you would have conducted yourself in a manner more worthy of respect, and you would have recognized that Travis has also earned your respect. I don’t know if you are motivated by greed and your husband somehow ‘needs’ the salary. I don’t know if you are motivated by power. Perhaps you are just looking for a way to make a name for yourself in the district and the real driver for both you and your husband is just pure ego. Who knows, maybe nepotism is alive and well. In the spirit of the holidays, I just keep getting reminded of the Grinch, and maybe your heart is “just a few sizes too small.”You, Diana, have violated Golden Rule #1. You have put a wedge in a family that is supported by the school district; you have separated and issued a war with your faculty and you are about to bring a community at odds.It is remarkable to me that the lights Travis worked so hard to have turned on were more worthy of discussion, community input and time than his continued service to the school and the kids. It’s remarkable that you cannot stand up to a whiny parent or two who clearly do not have a grasp on what high school athletics are or a grasp on the ability their child doesn’t actually possess. It’s remarkable that you cannot stand up for your staff and that you clearly prefer to hide “controversy” behind closed doors. Finally, it is appalling that you can blatantly lie to the paper, your staff and the community as easily as you did. I challenge your honesty, principals and values and truthfully, if I had children there, I wouldn’t want them learning from you. You do not deserve the position you are in, and you certainly don’t deserve it in my hometown.Jamie (Carter) Horn is an Aspen High School graduate, class of 1995. She is a resident of East Northport, N.Y.
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