BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A current Fort Madison High School coach has shed light on alleged interference from Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater on behalf of her son, who just finished his junior year.
Ryan Wilson, the head basketball coach at Fort Madison High School, confirmed on Monday morning that he was called to a meeting with Slater in January, where the superintendent mandated that her son get 16 minutes of playing time at the junior varsity level, or Wilson would be fired.
Pen City Current had referred to varsity sports action in an editorial that ran on Sunday. And although her son has played both varsity baseball and basketball, Wilson confirmed that the issues discussed focused on junior varsity playing time only, and the Current regrets that error.
“The thing that I want to accomplish is just getting this out there. Knowing that this isn’t what Fort Madison is about. And we don’t want to continue to lose great people in our community, staff in the district, community leaders, teachers, coaches, players, whoever,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he was called to a meeting Jan. 5 at Slater’s office in the central office building at 11:30 a.m. The meeting included Slater, Fort Madison Athletic Director Jeremy Swink, and Wilson.
“At that meeting it came down to there would be a revamping of the athletic department and my job would be posted if playing time expectations weren’t met for her son,” Wilson said.
“I couldn’t believe it happened. I walked out of the meeting shocked and appalled that this meeting just took place. It was a matter of now I gotta figure out a plan to make this happen.”
He said Slater’s expectations equated to half a game in the junior varsity contests.
Pen City Current provided Dr. Slater with Wilson’s comments via email after contacting her for the article, and Slater responded via email Monday night.
“These accusations are misrepresented and misleading. As the superintendent of the Fort Madison Community School District, I will not comment publicly on school district personnel issues or employee discipline,” she wrote.
“I will no longer answer accusations from a disgruntled part-time employee of the athletic department.”
Slater issued a letter on Jan. 7, summarizing the Saturday meeting. Slater said Wilson had agreed at an earlier meeting on Dec. 20 that varsity players who play junior varsity are there to get game experience and should be contributing in at least half of the game minutes.
Wilson said Slater’s son questioned him about playing time and he had a conversation with him and the junior varsity coach. And Slater’s son didn’t get the full 16 minutes with the exception of a couple games because Wilson said that’s not how his program works.
“Essentially it just came down to becoming a better basketball player and a lot of the way we play – the style we play – sometimes doesn’t fit his skill set,” Wilson said.
“But I’m not going to give playing time based on demands, wants and needs, and ulterior motives from parents. If you’re gonna play 16 minutes, you’re gonna earn it. So had I lost my job at the end of the season because an individual didn’t play half a game – so be it.”
Wilson said he had a conversation with Swink after the Saturday meeting to figure out a plan going forward. The two then requested a meeting with Fort Madison School Board President Dr. Tim Wondra, to discuss the issue and met with him on Sunday.
He also said the follow-up letter he received on Jan. 7, was substantially different than the conversation that took place in the office on Saturday.
Slater wrote in the letter… “moving forward , it is expected that the two varsity players that were discussed should be contributing in at least half the JV game minutes. It was recommended that Ryan think about subbing or having to cover the JV coach game responsibilities due to the JV coach not following expectations and apparent targeting.”
Wilson said the targeting language was the first time anything had been communicated to him or to the JV coach.
“Nothing had been communicated to me or the JV coach at all prior to that regarding that situation.”
Wilson also contends the Saturday morning meeting violated established team rules for no parental contact 24 hours before or after a game. The Hounds played Fairfield on the Friday night before and then Albia later that night after the meeting.
“That was a violation out of hand, but also was she coming at me as a superintendent and using that power and authority, or is she coming at me as a parent?” Wilson said.
“And why does it have to be in the superintendent’s office. This is an athletic situation, why wasn’t it at the high school in the athletic director’s office?”
Wilson was also reprimanded for discussing the issue with people outside the district. The reprimand was signed by high school principal Greg Smith and Swink.
The reprimand was a big factor and Wilson said his position as Executive Director was also a concern for him in not coming forward sooner.
“There was some thought that I could be done and things went through my head and I was losing sleep at night over was it really worth it. This is what I do at the Y, I work for the kids and create programs for the community. Coaching is a huge part of my life… Ideally, I’d think I can continue coaching,” he said.
A video surfaced Saturday that showed Scott Slater, Dr. Slater’s husband, confronting Wilson and calling him ‘vindictive’ in a 20-second exchange. Most of the video is inaudible.
Scott Slater was also suspended for a game by the district for violating team rules about a parent approaching a dugout during a baseball game this spring.
The Slaters have open enrolled their son out of the district for the upcoming school year.