Players, parents meet at length with board
About 30 people crammed into the Tonganoxie school district's board office Monday for the school board's regular meeting.
Many of the local residents were there to discuss issues surrounding the high school softball team and its coaches. But players, coaches and parents didn't speak to the school board in open session. Instead, for more than three hours, they spoke to the board, Supt. Richard Erickson and THS athletics director Brandon Parker behind closed doors.
Players and parents, as well as coaches Craig Lohman and Debbie Himpel, filtered in and out of closed meetings with the board.
Board member Kay Smith did not participate in the talks because Lohman is her brother.
Some players recently have expressed problems with Himpel, who, with Lohman, were hired by Parker two years ago to serve in a co-head coach capacity.
After the executive session, the board took no action regarding the two coaches -- Himpel still is a THS coach, while Lohman, who resigned earlier this summer, is not.
"We're just listening and not making any decisions," Erickson said. "We don't have any timetable right now."
The issue came to the forefront when the Lawrence Journal-World named Himpel and Lohman as coaches of the year after leading the Chieftains to the program's first state berth in the spring. THS finished with a 20-4 record and also claimed a share of the Kaw Valley League title.
In the story, only Himpel was interviewed and her picture appeared in the story, while Lohman was not quoted and there was no picture of the coach.
Himpel said that when she was approached by a Journal-World writer, the writer didn't realize the team had co-coaches. Himpel said she gave the writer Lohman's phone number. In addition, she said she called Lohman and left a message on his phone. Lohman said he had a missed call from Himpel, but did not return it.
On the Journal-World's Web site, players posted comments, upset because Lohman was not interviewed or pictured and critical of Himpel. Supporters of Himpel also posted comments defending the coach.
Sarah Flaherty was one softball player who spoke to the school board in executive session.
Afterward, she didn't discuss the executive session, but she did comment on the situation in general.
"I'm pretty disappointed they took this to the Internet, to the Lawrence Journal-World," Flaherty said, noting that any issues should have remained private matters among team personnel.
"It's been tough to listen to everything and read everything on the Internet," Flaherty said.
Sarah's mother, Tracey, also spoke to the school board in executive session.
"I think it's a witch hunt," Flaherty said, referring to how she thought Himpel was being unfairly treated. "I think the parents need to stay out of it."
Lohman also has coached the Tonganoxie Braves competitive summer softball team for several years. Flaherty said she used to play for the Braves, but suddenly was asked not to play a couple years ago, she said. Since then, she has played for a Lawrence team.
"I hold nothing against them, " Flaherty said.
She also said she respected the fact that Lohman resigned earlier this summer and that she was neutral when it came to Lohman and Himpel.
"I respect both coaches," Flaherty said.
Lohman declined to comment about Flaherty's departure from the Braves, and circumstances surrounding the high school squad.
Himpel also declined to comment Monday, as did Parker.
Tonganoxie had two players leave the team midway through the season -- Hannah Herrstrom and Ashlee Lohman.
Herrstrom said Monday she had no choice but to leave the team.
"There was too much drama between me and one of the coaches," Herrstrom said, referring to Himpel. "Softball wasn't what I wanted it to be with that whole situation."
Ashlee, who is Craig Lohman's daughter, also quit the team midway through the season. She said she felt like "she needed to take a stand," but didn't elaborate.
She did say that she continued to support the team as she attended the remainder of the games.
Lohman and Herrstrom both spoke with the board in executive session.
"It's 16-year-old girls; it's high school," Ashlee Lohman said. "That's all I have to say."
Herrstrom said she favored bringing in a new coach.
"I just think that we need to bring in somebody fresh who doesn't know any of us," Herrstrom said.
However, Herrstrom would play again for Craig Lohman if he returned to coach at THS next spring.
"I think he could do awesome things with this softball program," Herrstrom said.
Other players, such as Melissa Pratt, Amanda Albert and Roxi and Ronnie Grizzle, along with parents, met with the school board in executive session to discuss their concerns about the high school softball team's future.
Albert said she and Ashlee Lohman prepared a statement to read to the board during open session, but instead read it during executive session.
Albert declined to discuss what she had written, noting that board members urged them not to discuss matters from executive session any further.
"They just said what goes on in this room stays in this room and that's how I intended to keep it."
Although the team faces many uncertainties this summer, the team still has a league title it could defend next spring, as well as a chance at another state berth.
Flaherty said she would jump at the chance for another state berth.
"Of course, I'd love to," Flaherty said. "That's any high school softball player's dream."
Her mother had hopes for another state trip as well.
"If they work as a team," Tracey said.