There’s an interesting little story brewing in West Bend. Before we get to the actual story, let’s review the context of how it came about.
Despite being a fairly large district, West Bend’s high schools have struggled in competitive sports. They do well in a few areas, but many citizens think that the high schools should be more competitive in sports given the pool of students in the community. Many people attribute the lack of competitiveness to the fact that West Bend has two high schools. (For those who are uninitiated, West Bend has two high schools, East and West, that share the same building. They are divided for organizational purposes, but it is the same facility.) If West Bend combined the high schools, they argued, it would mean a larger pool of athletes for each sport which would lead to better teams. So the argument went…
There was a push last year to combine the high schools with this argument being used as one of the justifications. Since the academics of the two high schools are already almost completely combined, why not fully combine the schools and create one of the biggest high schools in the state with the stable of athletes to compete with the best?
After a lot of heated debate, the decision was made to keep the high schools separate, but as a concession to those who voiced concerns over the lack of competitiveness in sports, the school district created an Athletic Engagement Task Force to review the athletic programs with an eye to improving their competitiveness.
Enter Don Gruber. Gruber was the West Bend East’s girls varsity basketball coach. He had been the coach for 6 seasons and had an overall record of 54-87. Last season, the team really struggled with a record of 3-20. By every account I have read, he was a good coach, a good man, and was well liked by the parents and the students. They just didn’t win very much.
On the same day that the task force gave the board its recommendations, Gruber was fired. As a personnel issue, the district isn’t giving any specific reasons for his firing and nobody is saying much, but Gruber did file a grievance with the district’s HR department over the firing. It’s not over.
It does bring up the whole discussion of what do we want from our coaches? I don’t know Gruber or his coaching acumen, but many of his former students and their parents have been very praiseworthy of him. In contrast, I haven’t seen anybody saying that he was a bad egg. His team just didn’t win very much.
So what do we want from our coaches? Is the win/loss record the most important thing? He could be the greatest coach ever and just didn’t have good enough girls on the team. Should he be fired for that? Perhaps he was exceptional at developing young minds, attitudes, and bodies, but just a crummy game-time coach? Should that get him fired? What’s most important? But if we, as a community, are going to gripe about win/loss records and championships, can we find fault with an athletic director who is trying to replace coaches who don’t produce winning seasons?
What seems apparent is that Don Gruber lost his job because the community wants championships but was unwilling to combine the high schools to make them more attainable. My gut tells me that this is a reactionary firing, but the roots of it are in the community.