At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, the Chatfield School Board conducted a special meeting to address concerns presented by Chatfield’s head wrestling coach Travis Bartels.
On June 3, 2020, the school board voted to pull Bartels’ coaching contract, concluding his 19 years with the Chatfield wrestling program. Bartels, along with his supporters, wanted answers.
With COVID-19 restrictions taken under consideration, the school board elected to conduct a special meeting with the use of Zoom video, Chatfield CCTV, and the Chatfield CCTV Facebook page.
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, the Chatfield School Board conducted a special meeting to address concerns presented by Travis Bartels.
Present were Superintendent Ed Harris, Board Chair Amy Jeffers, Vice Chair Lanny Isensee, Clerk Scott Backer, Director Rick Lowrey, Treasurer Katie Priebe, and Director Matt McMahon.
After the Pledge of Allegiance and roll call, with the meeting led by Chair Amy Jeffers, Bartels was presented with time to make his statement.
Over the course of 26 minutes, Bartels presented his concerns.
He started out thanking his supporters, pointing out that there was a petition to reinstate his contract, which had already garnered over 1,400 signatures. He specifically thanked Chad and Amanda Curry for creating the “We Want Bart!!!” Facebook page.
According to Bartels, “On March 11, I had my post-season meeting with Dan Schindler, the Athletic Director. We discussed the season and touched upon issues that we both agreed were resolved. My evaluation was positive and he recommended my renewal. Between March 11 and May 5, I had the understanding that my contract would be renewed without issue as it had been the past five years.”
Bartels elaborated, “On May 5, the day after the May board meeting, Coach Mauseth informed me that the school board was investigating me for skipping practices on a regular basis. I missed one practice the entire season and that was due to illness. I was also informed that administration investigated anonymous accusations that I use inappropriate language. However, Dan Schindler and Randy Paulson both stated that these were unfounded accusations at my Program Improvement Plan meeting May 8th. That’s when I realized I was being set up to get pushed out as the head wrestling coach. This would make me the sixth Chatfield coach in six years to get pushed out over some private board members’ feelings. Dan Schindler and Randy Paulson, the high school principal, told me that the school board would be more comfortable renewing me if I were on a Program Improvement Plan. I called Ed Harris, the Superintendent, on May 5 and questioned if he is following chain of command. In addition, I requested that the school board and administration be at the meeting to create a Program Improvement Plan. Ed Harris said that he, nor the members of the board, would be at the Program Improvement Plan meeting on Friday, May 8. When I arrived at the meeting with Dan Schindler and Randy Paulson, the Program Improvement Plan was already written, without any input from me, and they strongly encouraged me to sign it that day. I disagreed with the plan and did not feel it represented the situations accurately. I was told I needed to sign by May 15 or I would not be renewed.”
Reluctantly, Bartels said he signed the Program Improvement Plan on May 14, 2020, and e-mailed it to Athletic Director Dan Schindler.
On Wednesday, June 3, at approximately 9 p.m., following the Chatfield School Board meeting, Bartels said he received a text message from Superintendent Ed Harris indicating the board did not renew his coaching contract at the school board meeting.
He reached out to all of the school board members in an e-mail, and received a response from Chair Amy Jeffers.
According to Bartels’ statement, Jeffers responded, “As you have been made aware, the wrestling head coach contract for 2020-2021 was up for renewal and was listed as a consent item at the June 3rd meeting. The Board was made aware of the fact that the administration had drafted a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for you due to your failure to meet standards and expectations, including respect and professionalism directed to the administration. You were provided a copy of the PIP in May. In light of the concerns set forth in the PIP, the head wrestling coach contract was pulled from the rest of the consent items, and voted on independently. When the renewal of the wrestling head coach contract came up for a vote the outcome was 1 vote in favor of renewal, 4 votes not in favor of renewal and 1 abstained vote, thus not approving the contract renewal.”
With respect to the Program Improvement Plan, Bartels was told that he needed to improve in the areas of language, professionalism, and communication.
Chair Jeffers specified the following.
- Language – Oversaw an environment where inappropriate language was permitted amongst other wrestling coaches.
- Professionalism – Communicated with the administration in an unprofessional, demanding, and uncivil manner. At times in front of other staff;
- Communication – Routinely failed to communicate with administration in a timely manner (e-mail, text, phone).
During the June 23 special meeting, Bartels addressed those concerns, and these are his words verbatim.
- Language: One volunteer coach swore during practice one time. I do not permit language in the room. I do not let the wrestlers listen to music with language either. We set this as a policy because it creates a better environment for our wrestlers and ensures that they are not used to swearing during wrestling. If they swear during a match, we could lose a team point. Not only does it create a negative environment in which to learn, but it can have a negative effect on the program.
- Professionalism: I got in a passionate discussion with Randy Paulson regarding the eligibility of a wrestler. He was equally intense and passionate that he could not wrestle. Randy Paulson later determined that the wrestler was in fact eligible. He wrestled and was very grateful I stood up for his right to do so. Here is what his mother stated in a public Facebook post regarding the incident, and I quote: “Travis Bartels went the extra mile for my son! Moved mountains so my son could wrestle. I thank him for that! His actions proves he loves to coach wrestling, and his record proves he knows how to coach. Bart gave it his all to see these boys win, you could tell on and off the mat! He believed in each and every one of them! Bart loves wrestling and the kids! Constant support and encouragement like a great coach does! This is a great injustice to our community. Informed through a text message? Stay classy school board! Stay classy!” End quote. Is the board saying they would rather I not stand up for kids?
- Did Randy Paulson explain to the board (and also to Ed Harris) that he subsequently agreed with me about the rules on eligibility?
- Did Randy Paulson explain to the board (and also to Ed Harris) that he and I subsequently had a meeting where we revolved the issue, shook hands, apologized, and agreed to move forward in a positive and productive manner?
- Communication: I do not understand this one. I sent weekly emails to Dan Schindler, parents, and wrestling fans. In addition, I sent wrestlers group text messages of encouragement and reminders. One fact to note, however, is that my email account was deleted by the school, with no notification to me, when my leave request was denied in 2019. I did not realize my school email account was not functional until September of 2019, at which time I notified Dan Schindler. He then requested it be reinstated, and we were both under the impression that it was in working order at that time. When Coach Mauseth contacted me in October about an email that he thought we should address, I realized my account was still not functioning correctly. I had to contact Dan Schindler again to readdress the problem. I am sure this situation did cause some delay in my responses to emails at that time.
Bartels continued with a series of questions for specific members of the school board and administration relating to his separation.
As he concluded his statement, he stated, “Generally, the only reason a coach with my experience gets fired is for an egregious act, especially given the success of our program and the positive feelings around our program from our past wrestlers and the community at large.”
He left a few more questions on the table as he wrapped up his statement.
Additional Questions for the Board and Administration:
- Why did you hold me to a higher standards and expectations than all the other coaches? Specifically, referring to language.
- Why did you set me up for non-renewal by making me sign a Program Improvement Plan and then use that as a reason to not renew?
- The first time I heard there would be any issue with my continuing to coach this team was during and after the June 3rd board meeting when my contract was not renewed. That lack of prior discussion, with me at least, creates an environment that lacks transparency and fails to give the community what they deserve. And they deserve to know the details about how this occurred.
Following Bartels’ statement, Chair Jeffers asked board members if they would like to respond. Travis Bartels’ entire statement can be found online with this article at www.fillmorecountyjournal.com (see below).
Rick Lowrey said, “The administration does not make the decision to renew a coaching contract. That decision is made by the school board. The administration felt that it was necessary to issue a Performance Improvement Plan to you regarding multiple issues. I did not feel that the board should issue a new contract to a coach who needs an improvement plan for multiple issues. This is not about your abilities as a coach or the great things that you have done for the wrestling program. This is about your inability and unwillingness to put yourself in check when dealing with the administration. This has been an issue more than once during your tenure as head coach. You expect your wrestlers to show you respect, and the board expects you to show respect, as well. Leading by example is key in all aspects of life. You can’t hide arrogance by calling it dedication.”
Katie Priebe had nothing to say.
Scott Backer said, “I’m not going to say anything about the specific facts, or otherwise debate other items that have appeared in various forums of social media or e-mails or discussions or the documents that I’ve seen that pertain to the non-renewal of a head coach. However, I will say that this challenging situation will in my opinion be a waste if it doesn’t result in some reflection and possible adjustments by the people that have played a role, including everyone from parents to administration to school board members to coaches and others, and consider how we ended up putting a community at odds. I will also offer that I talked directly with people on the phone or in-person, and all of them were very respectful and very thoughtful. Each of them talked about the accomplishments of the wrestling program. And, they said it offered community pride. And, there is no disagreement to that point. I am confident that if adults all look and reflect on their defined roles, and work towards improvements, our already very fine school and quality school programs will only get better.”
Lanny Isensee and Matt McMahon had nothing to add.
Chair Jeffers thanked Mr. Bartels and the board members for their statements, and concluded the meeting with an approved adjournment.