North Platte board opts not to retain basketball coach during eventful meeting

DEARBORN, Mo. — An embattled basketball coach at North Platte High School can keep his teaching job, if he so chooses, but won’t be back on the sidelines next season. During a Wednesday, March 18 regular session, North Platte Board of Education members listened to public opinions for about 30 minutes on both sides of the issue, which stems from allegedly inappropriate behavior around members of the boys basketball team. Doug Burnett, who recently finished up his first year with the school, twice missed games with no explanation from district officials provided when questioned about his absence.

According to the public comments made at the meeting, Burnett was verbally abusive to players on at least two different occasions, which apparently led to two suspensions totaling four games. North Platte went 7-18 this season, 0-7 in KCI Conference play, and lost in the semifinals of the Class 2 District 16 tournament to eventual state runner-up Mid-Buchanan.

In closed session, the board voted 5-2 to offer a math teaching contract to Burnett for the upcoming school year but 4-3 against him returning as a coach. Tim Nash, Eric Meadows, Mike Fisher and Vince Roberts voted against offering a coaching contract, while Micki Paden-Livengood, George Hoeffner and Bennett French voted in favor.

“I think there is no way anybody can win in this situation,” Kathy Montgomery said. “The worst thing about it is that it has caused division between teammates, and I hate that. I can understand why there are parents who are very much in favor of coach Burnett. I can also understand why there are parents of players that are not. Our side of it is we are not.”

Burnett was seen being escorted away from players prior to a KCI rivalry game with West Platte on Jan. 16, and the public comments indicate the move came after he allegedly grabbed the jersey of one of his players, pulled him in closer and yelled in his face. Assistant coach Kevin Ginter coached that night and again in the next game the following week in the opening round of the Lawson Invitational with Burnett absent.

Burnett also didn’t finish the season after allegedly calling a player a “disrespectful little (expletive)” on the bench of the Panthers’ regular season finale against Wellington-Napoleon on Feb.19. The words were heard by parents and fans in the crowd. Ginter again led North Platte in each of its two district games, including an opening-round win against Maysville, with Burnett again not on site.

Stephanie Snook, a parent of a North Platte player, said that Burnett showed the characteristics needed to help rebuild a program struggling to win in recent years. She believed the first-year coach should be offered a chance to move past his mistakes.

“I’m not agreeing with the things that have happened,” she said. “There have been things that have been said that I don’t agree with. I have seen a couple of incidents. I think at some point parents and kids need to take responsibility for their actions, as well. I understand he is held to a higher standard, but at some point we need to hold our kids responsible and our actions responsible, as well. I think we need to give him a chance.”

North Platte will be advertising for two new basketball coaches with veteran Karl Matt submitting his resignation at the same meeting.

In December, the board picked Matt to be the district’s next superintendent, replacing Dr. Jeff Sumy after his impending retirement at the end of June. Matt cited the time constraints of the new position for turning over the program to a new leader.

After a prior stint at North Platte, Matt returned in 2008 to coach the girls basketball team and helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs in six straight seasons from 2009 to 2014. The Panthers finished 26-2 this season and lost in the championship of the Class 2 District 16 tournament.

North Platte went 159-41 in Matt’s seven-year tenure.

While two coaching spots now sit open, North Platte did fill another.

Josh Rodriguez, a Polo, Mo. native, takes the helm of the football after Jim Brockhoff stepped down following a 1-9 2014 season. Brockhoff, who led the Panthers to a 40-63 record and two Class 1 playoff appearances in his 10 seasons after an 11-year stint in Savannah, has been hired as North Platte’s intermediate school principal.

After serving as an assistant coach at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Mo. for the past 10 years, Rodriguez, 33, takes his first head coaching job. He played four years at Missouri Valley in Marshall, Mo. before coaching stints in Marshall (Mo.) and Lebanon.

In other news, the board unanimously approved Sumy’s budget reduction plan as presented. The district hopes to save about $160,000 per year by cutting one para-position and reducing hours of other para-employees. Officials want to save about $66,000 by reducing teaching positions in addition to the savings from combining the junior and senior high principal positions, already approved in December of 2014, will be a part of the plan.

Michelle Johnson, the former intermediate school principal, takes over the new combined position. Matt served the past three years as high school principal, and junior high principal Janey Hoeffner will retire at the end of the school year.