On Halloween day, Kohala football coach Chad Atkins said he was told that the school would be opening up his position to new candidates.
He was extremely surprised, and when he asked Cowboys athletic director Laurie Koustik for the reasons why, he said he was told that there had been complaints against him.
“She didn’t tell me about any serious complaints from anyone during the season,” Atkins said recently by cell phone. “If it was serious enough, I would think someone would come and talk to me about it.”
Since that time, there have been many people from Kohala showing their support for the man who believes he was fired.
Last Thursday night, however, Kohala principal Amy Stafford responded via email to questions concerning the situation.
“The coach in question has not been terminated … ,” Stafford wrote. “All parties have already met several times, addressed concerns, and discussions are ongoing. While we are not able to discuss the details of this confidential personnel matter, we do ask for your assistance in not spreading inaccurate information.”
Generally, coaches at Hawaii public schools are hired on a year-to-year basis. When the year is up, their contract can be renewed or the positions are opened up.
A group of parents have worked in an effort to get Atkins and his assistants back as the football coaches — or if Stafford is correct and Atkins was never terminated — keep the job from being opened up to other candidates.
In addition, between 150 to 200 students at the school that has approximately 360 enrolled, have signed a petition in support of Atkins that they plan to give to the Kohala administration.
According to one of the parents, Michael Remsen, and Atkins himself, there has been some headway made in communication with Stafford and two complex area officials, Art Souza and Janette Snelling.
During a Dec. 2 meeting that Remsen, Atkins, Souza, Snelling and Stafford attended, Remsen and Atkins (while Stafford read a list of complaints against Atkins) both got the sense that Souza and Snelling did not see the justification for opening up the position and leaving Atkins behind.
Remsen and Atkins said more meetings are planned, including one in which Atkins and Koustik are being asked to talk it out and see if they would be able to work together in the future.
That sounds like a step in the direction Atkins is looking for.
Remsen, who was a coach at Kohala about 10 years ago, believes it might lead to Atkins returning to coach for the 2020 season.
“That’s what I care about most,” he said.
Asked for her thoughts on the matter, Koustik responded to an email last Thursday morning, writing that any communication by the school about this subject should go through Stafford.
Typically, the DOE does not discuss personnel matters, but Atkins freely gave his version of what he’s been told were the complaints against him. There are nine, all told by him:
>> “We had a Down syndrome boy who pretty much grew up with all of the players. He comes to practice, shaking everybody’s hands and cheering them on. So we put shoulder pads on him and let him hold a helmet and put a jersey on. He was stoked and was happy. We got him to take a couple of laps. She (Koustik) was not down for that, citing liability. OK, so we fixed that.”
>> “We had a scrimmage against Konawaena. She (Koustik) said she wasn’t aware of it on the schedule. But she approved it. The Konawaena athletic director has an email proving it. Without her approval, we couldn’t have it on the schedule. She said that if she knew there was going to be that many people coming to it, she would have charged admission. I guess she thought it was a real game because we were lining up like it was a real game.”
>> “One of the players slid in the mud at Keaau’s field because we won. So, we got him out of the mud and I apologized.”
>> “A person said I was a bully at football practice. Before I knew this, some parents had heard it in a recent meeting with her (Koustik). But the parents were like, ‘Bullying?’ If it’s true, how come it was not brought to my attention. Wouldn’t you want to address it and handle it?”
>> “She (Koustik) didn’t like that I went to the woods teacher to ask about having students do a project to put on a roof of our tower that we shoot video from. I was just asking about what could be done, not asking him to go ahead and do it.”
>> “Having our players practice with Pop Warner players was also a complaint. Our players were doing it as a community service thing, so those Pop Warner players know what it takes to play high school football.”
>> “Another complaint related to transportation to that practice with Pop Warner kids. We transported the kids in a truck, driving two miles down the road.”
>> “Some parents wanted their kids to play in a Pop Warner game because they were still of that age and complained that I wouldn’t let them. I shut that idea down. If you play Pop Warner, you are not eligible for high school. That’s the way it is.”
>> “One time, we were at a coaches house watching an OC 16 game. I drank a celebration beer. It was in front of players but it was at somebody’s house. At a residence. (One of the area complex officials) recently said ‘You can do whatever you want at (a private) house.’ ”
Atkins has also heard from Koustik and Stafford that he has used foul language while coaching the boys.
Another parent of a player, Francine Lactaoen, obtained a notarized affidavit concerning the Atkins situation. She sent it to Stafford and on Wednesday was planning to also send it to the DOE, the Board of Education, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.
The affidavit is accompanied by a letter and formal complaint against Koustik and the school’s athletic department.
The reasons Lactaoen gave for her complaint, in part, are:
>> “Wrongfully ‘letting go’ our head football coach” and assistant coaches
>> “Failure to positively support Kohala High School’s football program and its entire team”
Lactaoen wrote in her letter that during an Oct. 31 phone call with Koustik, after Atkins was told he was no longer the coach, Koustik said that she was told by Stafford to open up all coaching positions (head coach and assistants).”
Lactaoen also wrote that Koustik told her that Atkins “did not fulfill expectations that I have as an athletic director for my coaches.”
About a meeting with Stafford on Nov. 12, Lactaoen wrote that Stafford told her and parents Remsen and Blaine Duque that she “was not made aware of the coaching staff being let go at the time it happened and heard nothing but positive things coach Chad has done thus far.”
Lactaoen, in her letter, also requested the removal of Koustik as athletic director and the “reinstatement” of Atkins as football coach.
Lactaoen put a list of other grievances in the affidavit, including what she, Remsen, Atkins and Duque believe is improper collection of money. Twice, Lactaoen said she gave money to Koustik for athletic events and that Koustik put the money in her pocket.
In a side issue at Kohala, one football playing student has filed a police report concerning missing money from the locker room. That matter is being investigated by Big Island police, according to Lactaoen, Atkins, Duque and Remsen.
“As for the criteria for letting Chad go, I think they (Kohala administration) failed miserably,” Duque said. “They layed out the complaints at the end of the season instead of attacking each one and nipping it in the bud.”
Under Atkins, Kohala finished 3-5 in BIIF Division II in its first year back in 11-man football. During its run in BIIF 8-man, the Cowboys won a championship in 2015.