BOZEMAN — As if the jobs of superintendent, athletic director and coach weren’t pressurized enough in the era of helicopter parents, shrinking budgets and an escalating war on public education, now toss COVID-19 into the exhausting mix.
Small wonder that so many educators, much like our healthcare providers, are on the verge of calling it quits and embarking on less-flammable careers while they still have some physical and emotional endurance.
Firefighting, for example.
I suspect many of those who stay do so out of sheer devotion, in the case of educators to kids who need what they provide more than ever, and for healthcare providers a Hippocratic commitment to people in need of what they provide more than ever.
Otherwise, why would Lodge Grass athletic director Dee Pretty On Top, football coach Jerry Harris and, yes, superintendent Trivian Rides The Bear hang around only to endure highly charged COVID-related heartburn like they’ve experienced over the past three weeks?
To review, Rides The Bear approached Pretty On Top and Harris at halftime of Lodge Grass’ home game Sept. 17 against Fairview and requested the removal of a player due to contact tracing for COVID-19.
Pretty On Top and Harris declined, citing a lack of written COVID-19 policy and noting that not only was the student-athlete in question vaccinated but he’d also tested negative five times that week, including the morning of the game. They even checked with the Fairview coach, who supported the player’s continued participation.
Thus began a chain of events in which Rides The Bear suspended and sought the termination of Pretty On Top and Harris, citing “gross insubordination.” Last week, in front of a packed school board room and an audience watching via Zoom from the library, emotional arguments were heard, and ultimately Pretty On Top and Harris kept their positions after no motions were made to fire them.
All due to COVID-19.
At a time of dwindling referee and bus-driver pools, as well as other headaches related mostly to parents who feel increasingly empowered to drive their personal narratives in everything from curriculum to playing time, now this.
Yes, in this case Pretty On Top and Harris won and the administration lost.
In reality, everyone lost, players included.
Rides The Bear has absorbed a public flogging, especially from COVID-19 naysayers and backers of the AD and coach, for doing what she thought best for the student-athletes. Pretty On Top and Harris enjoyed majority community support, but their employment — in Pretty On Top's case, his livelihood — hung in the balance simply for doing what they thought best for the same student-athletes.
The student-athletes? They just wanted to play football and instead found themselves witnessing rancor between adults on the field and in the bleachers, and pleading with Rides The Bear not to follow through on a threat to forfeit the game at halftime.
The prevailing outcome: A deeper divide in an already irretrievably polarized culture.
Of course, less public angst would've followed the issue had Rides The Bear not inexplicably decided to approach Pretty On Top and Harris at halftime. If there were concerns, they could have been addressed behind the scenes well before the game.
Still divisive, perhaps, but less volatile.
Instead, the administration created regrettable optics and unwittingly provided more fodder for the anti-vaxxers and COVID skeptics who point to such incidents as examples of overreach.
It’s difficult enough to navigate the mind-boggling resistance to vaccinations without decisions that appear to defy common sense.
Here’s the thing: Consensus in Lodge Grass is that Rides The Bear, Pretty On Top and Harris all have the best interests of their students at heart.
As such, they’re willing to put up with overbearing parents, sparse budgets requiring them purchasing paper and pencils from their own limited paychecks, and the indefensible ridicule of public education.
For the kids, they’re willing to work unpaid overtime to provide the best possible experiences — exhausting under normal conditions, whatever those are.
Now, with COVID-19 as the proverbial final straw, it’s understandable why so many educators, along with healthcare providers, are hanging up their certificates to fight the type of fires where at least they’re given a pick, shovel and a pat on the back.