Our Views: Blowing the whistle on communication of Parker High School coaching change

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Gazette editorial board
July 16, 2015

The Janesville School District let the basketball dribble out of bounds in the way it announced the hiring of a new coach.

Educators should know better.

The district pulled a stunt typical of politicians and bureaucrats when it issued a news release last Friday—hours before the weekend—stating it hired Jennah (Burkholder) Hartwig as head girls coach at Parker High School.

The move stunned residents who didn't even know the district might replace successful longtime coach Tom Klawitter.

Superintendent Karen Schulte was in China and unavailable for comment. Stephen Sperry, acting superintendent in her absence, didn't return Gazette phone calls. Parker Athletic Director Joe Dye commented on Klawitter but deferred questions about the hiring process to Sperry.

Worse, the release didn't acknowledge a coach whose teams won three state titles and competed at state nine other times and who is the fifth-winningest girls basketball coach in state history.

The silence speaks volumes. It's silly, even petty. Granted, no amount of questioning would bring an explanation from administrators, but it's obvious they grew tired of complaints from parents and residents about Klawitter's verbal abrasiveness and courtside tirades.

Klawitter retired as a teacher June 11, meaning he no longer was coach, as well. As Wisconsin Retirement System bylaws require, he had to wait 75 days to reapply as coach. It's obvious the district had an opportunity to sever ties and took it. Hiring Hartwig, a legendary player who led Parker to its first state championship and helped take Klawitter's teams to state four straight years, allowed the district to save face.

In an interview, Dye had nothing but good things to say about Klawitter. But those in the know realize Dye was not his biggest fan.

Residents wonder how Dye could reapply as athletic director after retiring from teaching. And because former Craig basketball coach Bob Suter got the chance to keep coaching after his teaching retirement, why wasn't Klawitter afforded the same opportunity?

Sperry answered Gazette questions by email Wednesday. He said he approved the decision to post the position after listening to concerns from administrators and parents about how players would conduct a summer basketball program without a coach.

He noted that the Wisconsin Retirement System recently changed the delay for retirees to reapply for jobs from 30 to 75 days.

Sperry wrote that a peer interview team interviewed three of 15 applicants. Hartwig was chosen based on her interview and strong background and success as a player and coach.

“I do not know if Tom Klawitter intended to apply after Aug. 25th,” Sperry wrote.

The district just needed to ask him.

“I would've reapplied for the job, no doubt about it,” Klawitter told Gazette sportswriter John Barry.

To his credit, Klawitter took the high road, not wanting to grab the spotlight from Hartwig. He promised to discuss the deal in detail in coming weeks.

“The most important thing is that Jennah got the job,” he told Barry. “That's great. Under the circumstances, she's the best answer right now. It's nice to keep it in the family, so to speak.”

The district knew it would have to move on at some point. Given its desire to do so now and with Hartwig on staff as a Parker assistant, her hiring made sense. Hartwig's background offers no guarantees, but if anyone can carry on Parker's tradition, you would think it would be someone who starred, coached and learned the best of basketball under Klawitter.

Yet in making the change, the district again controlled the message to extremes. It could have been diplomatic. Issuing a news release that doesn't name Klawitter makes it look as if the district is hiding something, and that made the transition an issue.

In basketball terms, that rates a technical foul.


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