Swanton BOE Hears Calls for Non-Renewal of Contract for Head Football Coach

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The proceedings of the November 2021 Swanton Board of Education (BOE) were held in front of a standing-room only crowd that included many Swanton Local School District parents who wanted to address the Board with grievances mainly directed at head football coach Denton Saunders but also the football program and the administration.  The entire football coaching staff was also present.

Per BOE policy, members of the public were each given three minutes to address the presiding officer, BOE President Kristina Oberheim. Following Ms. Oberheim’s explanation of the policy, ten speakers, one by one, stood at the podium and voiced their concerns.  The first was Jeremy Smigelski.

Mr. Smigelski began by saying he was disappointed that the parents had to take the time to address an issue that should have been resolved by the school’s “leadership”.  He said the kids want a change and that a walkout of practice earlier in the season was, “A cry for help.”  He also described an incident where a player who complained of a “serious head injury” was put back into the game.  According to Mr. Smigelski, the administration conducted an investigation but, ultimately chose to “look the other way.”  He added that the parents were concerned about the safety of the players and asked the BOE not to renew Coach Saunder’s contract because “he doesn’t care about the kids.”

Sean Mitchey spoke next and cited Swanton’s football record of 3-26 over the past three seasons, including 0-10 in 2021, as a reason for a change in the program.  “As a parent, I want the best for our children,” said Mr. Mitchey.  “I want to put them in a position to succeed and to shine.  I’m not sure that’s what they’re getting in this program.”

Devon Crouse, a former player from the Swanton Class of 2021, gave his perspective from having played under Coach Saunders for two years and stated he only came out for football as a senior because it was his last year.  Mr. Crouse stated he was told by some of this year’s seniors that Coach Saunders said to them that he had given up on last year’s team halfway through the season and questioned why anyone would want to play for a coach that would say that.

Erin Pawlowicz spoke and described the practice environment as “toxic” and said, as other parents had said, that the joy of playing football had been taken away from the players and many had wanted to quit or would not be coming out again to play the sport they loved.

Another parent, Dale Pawlowicz, requested that when the Board members voted on Coach Saunder’s contract renewal, BOE member and assistant football coach Steve Brehmer not be allowed to vote to avoid a conflict of interest.

When the final speaker was finished, Ms. Oberheim thanked everyone for their comments and informed all in attendance that the Board would not be voting on contract renewal that evening. 

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