The master plan to save sports in Juniata County has hit the first bump in the road.
Only this bump appears to be the body of one of the school district's coaches, who was casually thrown under the big yellow bus Thursday night by the school board.
I contacted a member of the football booster organization after learning of Tom Feltman's dismissal, and the first thing I heard speaks volumes:
"If we're paying for all this, shouldn't we have a say in who the coach is?"
Yes. Or no. It depends on your point of view, I guess.
In an eerie coincidence, that same topic was broached at the school board meeting where Feltman's fate was being decided. Juniata track coach Kim Hart expressed concern about the role boosters want to play in the hiring of coaches - boosters who, to be fair, are not actually the ones paying the coaches.
Sort of. The district is paying salaries from the activity fee funds, which technically are not paid by the boosters.
Call this the warning shot across the bow for the people who have to make this work if their kids are to have sports at all.
The problems begin in the board room. The school board deferred to the wishes of the parents and other boosters throughout the process of reestablishing sports, since that's who was paying the bill. But the board also insisted that the school district maintain control over the programs, and the money has to funnel through its office. The booster clubs have fought the administration over who should collect the activity fee - the clubs want control over that, but the district believes it should be in charge.
And now come the personnel issues, fueled undoubtedly by personal issues.
I don't know why Tom Feltman was not rehired to coach the Tiger football team. The school board members are prohibited from commenting, and Feltman opted not to speak Thursday when he learned that he would not be returning.
That this took place when the board had to know Feltman was at the other side of the district, meeting with players and parents from what he thought was his team at a "Meet the Coaches" event is disturbing, but hardly atypical. When Roger Herto was dismissed from his first stint as Indian Valley's girls basketball coach, he was at the meeting only because someone leaked it to him that he was on the agenda - the meeting in which he was shown the door took place when he was out of town.
Members of the Midd-West school board that fired Mike Stebila, its onetime girls basketball coach, at least had the courage to do it when they knew he'd be in the room.
No coach is entitled to a job. But sacking a coach who has taken a struggling program and restored pride, who has taken that program to the playoffs on multiple occasions - and doing so with less than 100 hours before the football season begins - seems ludicrous.
Unless Feltman - who is one of the nicest human beings I know - has an incredibly dark side that led him to commit unspeakable acts that would justify his dismissal, then this should not have happened (and, thus far, the worst thing I've heard Feltman did was have a verbal altercation with an administrator, who presumably should be thick-skinned enough to forgive that).
School board members should be asking themselves whether they would have removed Feltman from the post for his alleged crimes had he been appointed at a prior meeting, or if this same matter would have been treated differently - and if so, why it wasn't treated that way this time.
The board also should prepare for an onslaught of feedback from Feltman's supporters - and show, as it did when a proposal was floated to change the team's conference affiliation - that it will listen to its constituents and make the decision that is best for the team.
Barring new evidence, I believe that decision is to hire Tom Feltman as East Juniata's football coach.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at email@example.com.