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Runners Stand by Coach: Lebanon High Students Sound Off on Resignation

  • Lebanon High Senior Liz Peterson, 16, left, parent heather Grohbrugge, and senior Michaela Bish, 18, wait in the hallway of Lebanon Middle School after using the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to voice their displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Peterson and Bish, along with Grohbrugge's daughter, are on the school's team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Lebanon High Senior Liz Peterson, 16, left, parent heather Grohbrugge, and senior Michaela Bish, 18, wait in the hallway of Lebanon Middle School after using the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to voice their displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Peterson and Bish, along with Grohbrugge's daughter, are on the school's team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jill Guyer, right, uses the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to read a letter written by her son Ethan, left, voicing his displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Ethan is on the school's cross-country team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Jill Guyer, right, uses the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to read a letter written by her son Ethan, left, voicing his displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Ethan is on the school's cross-country team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon High Senior Liz Peterson, 16, left, parent heather Grohbrugge, and senior Michaela Bish, 18, wait in the hallway of Lebanon Middle School after using the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to voice their displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Peterson and Bish, along with Grohbrugge's daughter, are on the school's team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Jill Guyer, right, uses the public comment portion of the Lebanon School Board meeting to read a letter written by her son Ethan, left, voicing his displeasure with the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former cross-country coach Kim Sheffield at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H. on October 23, 2013. Ethan is on the school's cross-country team. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Lebanon — A group of Lebanon High School cross country runners rallied behind their former coach at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting and placed the blame for her recent resignation squarely on school administrators.

All of them spoke highly of Kim Sheffield, who resigned earlier this month after a seven-year tenure with the cross country team, including five as the head coach. Her departure followed what students characterized as weeks of unfair scrutiny by Nan Parsons, the high school principal.

John Cioffredi, a senior who has run on the cross country team in the past but is currently on the roster as a manager, called Sheffield a “great coach” who had been mistreated.

“She’s tough. She’s a distance runner,” Cioffredi said. “She’s used to the hard times, which is why her resignation would not come from something small, something insignificant. It would not come from some petty misunderstanding toward her. It would only be able to come from the constant badgering that the administration presented to her, and it’s concerning, quite honestly.”

Not all the board members were sympathetic to the students’ sentiments.

Bob McCarthy said that he took issue with a coach telling her student-athletes to “stick it out” and then quitting at mid-season.

“I’ve got a problem with a coach that tells you to do one thing and then does the opposite,” he said. “I had a great coach who once told me, ‘Winners never quit and quitters never win.’ I am not sorry to see this person go at all.”

A series of emails between Sheffield and Parsons, which the Valley News published Wednesday, showed the two clashing over items such as runners’ warm-up attire and paperwork.

Cioffredi described the coach as being “driven off by our own administration.”

“I hope that even though (Sheffield) probably won’t be able to come back, that the School Board does take some action and makes changes to the administration so that no other team has to go through what we’ve gone through,” he said.

School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey said members would “take things under advisement,” though the board does not have the authority to reinstate coaches.

“This is a personnel matter that the administration deals with on their own,” Peavey said.

Parsons served as acting athletic director during the summer and the first weeks of the school year after Kelley Carey resigned the position in June. Efforts to hire a permanent AD broke down over a messy dispute between board members and administrators over the search process.

The School Board eventually approved Linda Preston, the middle school athletic director and sister of School Board member Doug Preston, as a temporary part-time high school athletic director last month.

On Wednesday night, students addressed specifics of Parson’s critique that have come to light since Sheffield’s resignation, including runners wearing warm-up shirts at events that were purchased through a team fundraiser and not part of the official school uniform.

“We weren’t allowed to wear them ... because they weren’t school colors, but we don’t have any warm-ups,” said senior Ethan Guyer, who attended the meeting in a suit and jacket. “So all of the clothes we had to wear wouldn’t have been school colors.”

Brenna Peterson, a sophomore in her second year on the cross country team, described Sheffield as a “very effective and supportive coach.

“I feel that the administration did not do a very good job of supporting (Sheffield) as a coach,” Peterson said. “For example, our home trail is in Plainfield, and we’ve found ourselves this season unable to get a bus. (Sheffield) tried several times to get us a bus to the trail, but we still couldn’t get one.”

Peterson continued, “When our option turned to having students drive themselves and other teammates to the trail, we were suddenly able to get a bus. That’s just one example.”

Parsons did not attend last night’s board meeting. Previously, she has declined to discuss Sheffield, citing a district policy against discussing personnel matters.

Jill Guyer, the mother of Ethan Guyer, was the only parent to speak at the meeting, and she responded to McCarthy’s comments. She said she was “disturbed mostly by the fact that it appears, at least from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard, that (Sheffield) was bullied by the administration.

“I don’t think the administration should be bullying anybody, certainly not coaches,” Guyer said. “I totally respect Kim Sheffield even though she quit. ... I don’t expect anyone to put up with the kind of harassment that she appears to have dealt with.”

After the meeting, students and parents gathered in the hallway outside the middle school cafeteria where the meeting was held to discuss what had just transpired.

Elizabeth Peterson, a senior, said that the cross country program at the school was “largely ignored” by previous athletic directors.

“Essentially, I have a very difficult time that the administration found it so necessary for them to take such drastic measures without connecting with the team, without seeing how (Sheffield) interacted with her athletes, without watching how we worked together, and seeing that it was not a broken system at all,” Peterson said. “This entire incident has created more problems than it has solved.”

Keith Grohbrugge, whose daughter was not able to attend the meeting, said he wanted to come and “hear what the kids had to say.” He added that his daughter, a sophomore, was fully supportive of Sheffield.

Grohbrugge said that Sheffield copied all of the team members’ parents on her resignation email. He said he disagreed with high school administrators’ scrutiny of Sheffield, but also felt the coach may have overreacted in response.

“There’s part of me saying, ‘I don’t believe that she’s resigning over this,’ ” he said. “At the same time, I can’t believe she’s getting written up by the administration. ... This just makes no sense.”

Grohbrugge said that Sheffield was a “tough coach, but my daughter’s times were better every race that she ran.

“She enjoyed running, she looked forward to it every day,” he said. “So the abrupt change is problematic.”

Peterson said that Sheffield was “definitely targeted” and did not deserve to be reprimanded by administrators.

“(Sheffield) was entirely invested in us,” Peterson said. “(She) was so invested in our team, and so invested in us. She wouldn’t just leave us — no doubt in my mind.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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