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Fike High School’s girls soccer team and its coach garnered support at Monday’s Wilson County Board of Education meeting.
Three speakers rose to voice their concerns about the program, whose coach was suspended pending an investigation into a March 26 practice.
About 30 parents and some members of the Fike girls soccer team attended the meeting to form a standing-room-only crowd.
The program was not an agenda item but the speakers made their comments during the public input portion of the meeting.
Board Chairwoman Christine Fitch told attendees that matters concerning specific school personnel should not be discussed during public comment.
Marilee Williford whose daughter is a senior co-captain of the Fike soccer team, was the first to raise the subject.
“I am here tonight to express my concern at the handling of allegations made against her coach and the rest of the team,” Williford said.
When Williford mentioned the coach, Fitch broke in to warn her that she was getting into a personnel issue.
“The sentiment that you are expressing has already been publicly communicated, so we cannot have that discussion at this point in time,” Fitch said.
“My concern is that there are 16 girls who have not been supported by Wilson County Schools at all, or protected,” Williford said. “They have reached out to their administration and have received no support at all.”
Fitch broke in once more.
“We are in the process of handling it and this is not the arena to have this discussion,” Fitch said.
When Williford stepped away from the speaker’s podium, her comments were followed by extended applause from many in the audience.
Later during the public comment period, Sara Robbins, a retired teacher of 30 years and former employee of Wilson County Schools, addressed the board.
Robbin said she had three points to make.
“Last week during school hours, all members of the Fike women’s varsity soccer team were pulled into the office,” Robbins told the board. “Personal items were removed from them and each player was interviewed in the assistant principal’s office by a still-unidentified gentleman.”
Fitch broke in.
“Mrs. Robbins,” Fitch said, “This is being handled. This is not the place for this discussion.”
Robbin went to her second point.
“I resent all members of the squad being accused in the media as participating in the incident currently under review,” Robbin said. “Not all members of the squad were even aware...”
Fitch broke in again.
“Mrs. Robbins. Mrs. Robbins. We are dealing with this issue right now,” Fitch said.
“Would you let me continue when I ask for support of the girls who are on the team?” Robbins asked.
“Yes, you may ask, but we cannot deal with this issue in this setting,” Fitch said. “We will see where it goes, but I may have to stop you there.”
“The whole squad at games away from school has been heckled and called bullies and hazers,” Robbins said. “Wilson County Schools does not offer support to this team in the form of counseling or even with their presence at the games. These young ladies are confused, worried about their soccer program and anxious when representing their school and in need of your support.”
Robbins went to her third point.
“Fike women’s soccer coach is their mentor, their teacher and their adviser...” Robbin said.
“Mrs. Robbins,” Fitch said, stopping Robbins’ statement. “You cannot continue with this discussion at this point. This is not the venue to have discussions of this issue.”
Robbins asked, “Is there a venue in which the public can speak?”
Fitch told Robbins that she may send a letter to the superintendent or the board of education.
“This is not the venue and I cannot allow you to continue,” Fitch said.
“Is there a petition that could be allowed to be accepted by the superintendent or the school board?” Robbins asked.
“You are free to submit a petition, but we cannot handle this in this forum,” Fitch said.
When Robbins’ exchange with the board chairwoman was over, many in attendance clapped for an extended time.
Witt Putney said he had played soccer for Fike High School from 2000 to 2004.
“In light of some of those who have spoken before me, I will try to keep my comments very generic and brief,” Putney said.
Putney said he considered his experience “something that I look back on very fondly and I consider it to be a character-building endeavor.”
“I am not privy to some of the recent things that have occurred and I don’t plan on speaking to those,” Putney said. “I will say, just as a word of advice, please do take into consideration that sometimes it is better to take your time to come to the appropriate decision than to hastily come to what comes to be an incorrect decision.”
Putney, too, received extended applause from many of those in attendance.
Later in the meeting, Fitch said that the board was “dealing with the situation” and would respond in due time.
Amber Lynch, public relations director for Wilson County School, detailed the suspension of the Fike girls soccer coach.
“Toni Varacchi was suspended with pay from her duties as a coach and teacher effective April 9, 2018,” Lynch wrote in an email on April 11. “Any Wilson County Schools employee who is suspended with pay is not permitted on school property during the term of their suspension. This is a confidential personnel matter and the school district is prohibited from releasing any additional information at this time.”
The suspension came after the parents of a team member complained about the treatment of their daughter at a practice.
Ken and Kelly Barnes reported that their daughter, Parker Barnes, was hurt after she was thrown to the ground by a teammate in a drill sanctioned by the coach.
The school board approved several personnel changes during a closed session held at the conclusion of its Monday meeting, but no actions were taken on Varacchi’s employment status.