March 18 • 12:52 PM

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Dozens question football program at Imlay City school board meeting

September 30, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Close to 40 parents and alumni attended Monday night's school board meeting to voice their concerns and, for many, frustrations with the high school football program.

In a more informal question and answer period following the meeting, the board and Superintendent Dr. Gary Richards discussed a variety of issues with parents and former players ranging from declining player numbers to coaching staff conduct.

Some parents acknowledged the winless season for both the junior varsity and varsity teams was at the heart of their grievances. Others felt there was something lacking in the program that was causing their sons to lose interest in the sport.

"To watch the light go out in their eyes, it hurts," parent Jill Orlowski said.

Art Kanaziz said it's difficult to watch middle school players find success in the Storm Football and junior high programs and then deal with shrinking teams and disappointing seasons once they reach high school.

"You can't overnight take winners and turn them into losers," Kanaziz said.

A few called for the entire coaching staff to be replaced.

Some asked if the school board was concerned that students were leaving the district to play football at other schools. President Sharon Muir said she hoped academics took priority over athletics for both parents and students and, if so, there would be no need to leave considering Imlay City's strong academic tradition.

School board member Doug Van Dyk (center) addresses concerns of football player parents and others at Monday night’s meeting. photo by Maria Brown.

Due to declining numbers, Imlay City cancelled their freshman football program this summer. For the same reason last year, Imlay City did not have a junior varsity team. Richards said football numbers have been declining for several years over the course of several different coaching staffs.

"There's not one simple answer to 'why,'" Richards said.

Jean Shene asked that the coaching staff give players the same respect the teens were required to give them. Jill Campbell voiced concern over profanity heard on the sidelines and the fact that the varsity team wasn't present for the playing of the National Anthem at Friday night's game against Yale.

Several parents said they wanted to help players and coaches solve their issues.

Kevin Harbin said the winless season is likely weighing heavy on coaches. He said he hoped parents would be as concerned if the team had a winning season.

"We need to evaluate all coaches by looking at (the policies) that are in place," Harbin said.

In comments given to the Tri-City Times on Tuesday, varsity head coach John Forti said he too is frustrated with declining rosters and tough opponents they've faced on the field.

"We are not the only school that is suffering from lack of interest in football,' Forti said.

"Croswell Lexington, Armada, and Capac all struggled this year with lack of participation at the junior varsity level," Forti said. "We do have a hard-working, dedicated group this year. However, if you look at the size of our team and the size of the teams that we play, we are much smaller in numbers and in physical size."

As for the recent National Anthem incident, Forti said it was a mistake.

"We did not mean any disrespect to our country or anyone else by not being out there for it," he said.

Forti says he wants parents to come to him to express their concerns.

"We—coaches and parents—need to work together to rectify the situation," he said.

"If anyone wants to question what we are doing, we have an open door. Come attend a practice or two and find out what's going on."

Forti is in his third season as head coach.

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