Students stage sit-in to back coach

SYCAMORE – Students organized a sit-in Tuesday over the nonrenewal of Mohawk Local Schools’ volleyball coach Eric Hoover.

At a school board meeting Monday night, a motion to give him another contract as volleyball coach failed by a 3-2 vote, according to Treasurer Roy Swartz.

Mohawk High School Principal Brett Graham described the sit-in as “genuine and heartfelt.”

It lasted 30-45 minutes, he said.

“The students have been unbelievably supportive,” Hoover said. “They skipped out of class and came down to the gym as a show of support, I guess. They sat here for a little while and we ended up using it as a teaching moment. (We talked) about if you want to get things done and you don’t agree with how things are getting done, there’s positive ways to go about it and ways you can get things changed.”

Hoover said the effort was student-organized to his knowledge.

“That’s pretty cool, I think, and makes me feel good,” Hoover said. “I’ve been getting phone calls, e-mails and texts all day from people all throughout the community – ex-players, ex-players’ parents, current players’ parents – all day long. Other coaches supporting me and telling me they’re behind me. …

“I’m thankful for everyone’s support. It means a lot and it’s overwhelming to know that many people think of me in that way and would be willing to come out and support me. I appreciate that.”

Hoover said he will continue coaching baseball and teaching at Mohawk.

“I like what I do and enjoy spending time with the kids,” Hoover said.

Freshman Hannah Kieffer, who participated in the sit-in, said she and other class officers put together several petitions that more than five dozen freshmen have signed so far.

Graham said he told students to direct their efforts and provide information to the board.

Jacque Tyree has a daughter, Jordan, who is in fifth grade and plays volleyball.

“Hoover built the program up to make something of our kids,” Jacque Tyree said. “He is a good coach and a good teacher.”

Her daughter agreed.

“He has taught me a lot. I want him to teach me once I get into high school,” Jordan said.

Former student Danielle Tyree, who graduated in 2012, said she didn’t understand the board’s decision.

“Hoover is all about the kids and everyone gets along with him in his classes,” Danielle Tyree said. “I don’t understand why they are getting rid of him, he is outgoing, and friendly to talk to.”

“It upsets me that they are going to take that away from someone who had done nothing wrong,” said Molly Cartwright, a 2012 grad, said.

Superintendent Ken Ratliff said he had anticipated the contract would be renewed.

“I have had lots of calls about coach Hoover today. He has a valid teaching contract and members of the community demand that the issue be revisited,” Ratliff said. “All I know at this point is the desire to reconsider this position.”

Ratliff said the sit-in didn’t surprise him.

“My report from the principal was that the students were very well behaved. We have good students here. They went down there to make their point. They sat down and behaved. They didn’t disrupt anything. They were just sitting there,” Ratliff said. “They were very pleasant and very polite. Mr. Graham took that opportunity to take them into the gym and express their appreciation for them to voice their opinion in positive way and to have (their voices) heard; for all of them to be thankful that we’re in a country that you can do that. And he gave a chance to talk amongst themselves about what their game plan was.”

He said Graham also offered a suggestion to the students about how to best make their case to the school board for Hoover to remain the volleyball coach.

“Then (Graham) told them, ‘As soon as you’re done (discussing that), we’re going to get back to class and get busy,'” Ratliff said. “They complied and went back to class and finished out the day with no issues.”

Mindy Walton, an assistant volleyball coach, said the team is united.

“It is harder to know that our board of education cannot rehire someone with the record he has had and the number of hours he has put in,” she said. “The girls are very upset and are opposed to playing under someone else.”

Janet Dunlap, Mohawk’s Athletic Booster secretary, said Hoover needs to stay.

“I can’t even explain what he means to the community,” Dunlap said. “For this to happen it is an outrage.”

Staff Writer Aaron Korte contributed to this story.