ANACONDA — The Copperheads are looking for new basketball coaches to lead both their boys and girls programs.
A motion to rehire boys basketball coach Rochi Estes and assistant coach Caleb Stetzner failed Wednesday during the Anaconda School Board meeting by a vote of 1-6. First-year superintendent John Sullivan, along with first-year athletic director Dakota Norris, were both in favor of rehiring Estes.
The school board's decision comes on the heels of the resignation of girls basketball coach Andy Saltenberger on Tuesday. Saltenberger, who led the girls team for the past four seasons, has yet to comment.
“There’s always going to be some unhappiness, people that disagree or want more playing time for certain kids, or parents are unhappy that their kid isn't playing,” Estes said during a Thursday interview with The Montana Standard. “I knew that there was some of that, of course, you know, there's a lot a lot of people were saying things; there's a lot of rumors going around and things like that.
People are also reading…
“But, yeah, I’m pretty well blindsided.”
Estes is the nephew of Wayne Estes and coached at Anaconda High School for 11 years. He was an assistant for seven years and the head coach for four. He was a five-sport athlete at Anaconda high school, a state champion in track and field and still holds every 3-point shooting record for the Copperheads.
Members of the Anaconda School Board did not provide a reason as to why they decided not to extend Estes’ contract.
The Board’s pending decision was sensed ahead of time by several community members who also spoke in favor of Estes and his staff — and in general disagreement with the board — during public comment.
“I attended a meeting that you guys had a couple Mondays ago,” said Alicia Morley, wife of Anaconda School Board Chair Kevin Morley. “And you all told Dakota what a great job he was doing. All of you agreed that he's doing a wonderful job. And I also agree, I think all of our new administration is doing great job. And I think if you were to disagree with this recommendation, you would be kind of slapping them in the face.”
Kevin Morley was the one vote on the board in favor of retaining Estes and his staff.
Butte Central Schools president and MOA official Don Peoples Jr. submitted a letter which was read aloud at the meeting by Blake Hempstead of Copperhead Country Media.
“… As a referee, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to officiate Anaconda boys’ basketball games,” Peoples said in final paragraph of the letter, which can be seen in its entirety attached to this story. “Coach Estes does a great job in his leadership of the program and always demands great sportsmanship by his players. There is no question that he emphasizes playing the game the ‘right way.’”
Eli Saltenberger, Andy’s son who played for Estes for four years, signed his letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Providence on Wednesday afternoon.
“This coach is huge,” Eli said. “He’s a huge asset to our team and school district.”
Kelley Krum, brother of Copperheads volleyball coach Korey Rivers, emphasized the importance of consistency within the coaching ranks and leadership positions.
“In order to build a program, we can't have (a high) turnover rate,” Crum said. “Every year for different sports, it's really hard to build a program that way. I think what Rochi’s done has been great. And I'd like to see him continuing to be the head coach.”
Angie Sawyer, whose two sons competed or still compete for Anaconda High School athletics, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I have two sons, one is a junior and one's a freshman in college,” she said. “Braeden never had the same coach in any sport that he played all through high school, all four years. Tommy has had one coach and it's wrestling, and hopefully when that comes up you will follow your superintendent’s and athletic director’s recommendation because in my opinion, that's your job.”
A motion to rehire wrestling coach Joe Casey and his staff was approved later in the meeting.
Because Andy Saltenberger had already resigned, there was neither an action item nor public comment specifically assigned to his departure. However, during public comment after the approval of the agenda at the start of the meeting, Hempstead presented a letter from Peoples in support of Saltenberger.
“... Coach Saltenberger always demonstrates great sportsmanship and integrity,” Peoples wrote in the second paragraph of his letter, which can be seen in its entirety attached to this story. “They are competitive young ladies who always play hard. The way they approach the game is a tribute to Coach Saltenberger and his staff.”
Peoples, whose letters were dated April 5, said that he was unaware that Saltenberger and Estes would be stepping down or removed from their posts. He also acknowledged that as an official, it was “unusual” to submit a letter commending the character of coaches and teams he officiated.
“But I was glad to do it,” he said in an interview with The Standard. “In (Hempstead’s) request, I think he knew that me being a coach brought that part of the perspective as well.”
No one in attendance spoke in favor of the board’s decision during public comment. Vice Chair Angela Galle, who was one of the six votes against the rehire of Estes, has two sons who played boys varsity basketball this past season. She also has a daughter who played girls varsity basketball. She has not responded to requests for comment. Board member Art Villasenor, who also voted against the rehire, also has a son who played on the boys varsity basketball team. He also has not responded to an interview request.
Estes went on to say that even though he felt “blindsided,” he knew, deep down, that this result was possible given the amount of turnover the school had experienced recently while the entire board remained intact.
“I'm not there to listen to parents’ complaints,” he added. “I'm not there to have a board member tell me who to play and when to play him. And I should do this or do that. I'm there to be a basketball coach and judge who the best basketball players are, and who’re the hardest working kids on the floor, both in practice and during the game. And that's what I'm there for. That's my job; it’s to play the best possible kids that I can put on the floor.”
Norris, who took over as athletic director at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year after Allen Green resigned, confirmed that a search for new coaches is underway.
Sullivan is completing his first school year as superintendent. He took over after the board terminated Justin Barnes’ contract in June 2021.
Matthew Kiewiet is the sports editor for the Montana Standard and sports betting columnist for 406MTSports. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @mattkiewiet406.