SVSJ commentaries: Camas principal, Concordia U. closure and a little love for the Mount Si band…..

Random thoughts from your editor on a Thursday:

Camas High School principal controversy unnecessary, unfortunate; could school district look to Valley for potential replacement?
Many of you this past week probably heard the news about the controversy regarding Camas High School which forced its principal, Dr. Liza Sejkora, to resign late last Friday. To review, Dr. Sejkora had posted some controversial comments on social media regarding the recent helicopter crash that claimed the life of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and several of her teammates and their family members and coaches, comments which centered around his 2003 incident in Colorado in which he was accused of sexual assault by a female hotel worker; the case was not criminally prosecuted and instead was settled in civil court.

Many in the community were outraged by what she had written about the matter on Facebook only to remove it soon after. She apologized, but that was not enough for some, and the matter gained international attention and further outrage, outrage which helped to fuel threats and other security issues at CHS which resulted in several lockdowns, creating major disruptions to the learning process for students.

Folks who supported the principal spoke up at Monday’s Camas school board meeting, but again, with Dr. Sejkora having resigned, it was not going to have much of an effect. We will say that while, as you know if you follow us on Twitter, did not believe the comments, even though we, too, thought they weren’t very bright, warranted Dr. Sejkora’s dismissal, we feel that it was ultimately in the best interests for all concerned considering the security and safety issues that she step down. So where do we go from here?

Well, it’s expected an interim principal will be named, perhaps before the end of this week if one hasn’t already been named. Then the school district will, sometime this spring, begin the process of naming a new leader for the upcoming school year. The Camas community likely will want school leaders, including Superintendent Jeff Snell, to look within the area for a potential replacement, but the district could opt for a wider regional and national search. If they go this route, there is a Valley name worth watching as a potential candidate.

Mount Si High School principal John Belcher has been a strong leader for this school and its kids for nearly a decade now. And it is his hard work here which provides a strong case for him to be a candidate for this position if he is approached about it.

-When Belcher was hired by the Snoqualmie Valley School District to run Mount Si almost 10 years ago, the school was still dealing with the after-effects of negative press and community backlash following events which called into question the school’s treatment of gay students, among them the infamous 2009 fight in the old gymnasium’s boys locker room involving a presumed LGBT student and the subsequent handling of that incident by the previous Mount Si administration which earned a lengthy article in the Seattle Times and resulting backlash from the LGBT community. Through such initiatives as PRIDE, Belcher has helped restore a positive image for the school and its students in the community.

-Belcher has presided over a massive campus redevelopment and has done so with minimal disruption to most students and staff. Yes, if you are part of the Wildcat baseball or softball program, your routines have been severely disrupted, sure, but for the great majority of folks at MSHS, that’s really as far as we can tell not been the case.

-Those of you who follow the Mount Si principal on Twitter also know he has been a tireless leader and advocate for kids at the local, state and national levels, representing this community and its students in places such as Olympia and Washington, DC. Camas school leaders may view that as a plus in their search efforts.

-Additionally, the student and community demographics – and student body numbers – of both schools are relatively similar as well, with Camas being a suburb of Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA.

While nothing has been officially suggested as of yet, and frankly, such a search, if it even happens, probably won’t happen until May at the earliest, it is fair to say that Belcher’s resume here at Mount Si would, if Camas officials choose to contact him about this opportunity, make him a very viable potential candidate. We, and a lot of you, would hate to see him leave, but it’s important you all know that the possibility could exist. We shall of course see.

That all said, we hope that the coming weeks will see a return for Camas High School to being recognized for things such as what we recognized their senior student athlete Kolby Broadbent for last November here – random acts of kindness and great sportsmanship towards opposing athletes following games, like Broadbent’s toward members of Mount Si’s football team following their state playoff game, instead of being known for the kind of nonsense that the events of last week resulted from.

Small college sports once again impacted by changes in GNAC
NCAA Division II’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference in recent years has seen its football league drop to just four members following schools dropping their football programs, impacting college opportunities for many high school senior student-athletes, including those at Mount Si and Cedarcrest High Schools. Well, some news this week about an entire school’s athletic program – and the whole school itself – closing up shop will once again result in negative impacts for college athletic opportunities for high school seniors, and perhaps also is a cautionary tale for smaller schools wanting to take the leap into the NCAA, something which could impact the future ability of the GNAC to offer football as a sport in its league.

Portland’s Concordia University announced late Monday its decision to close permanently at the end of spring semester, citing decreased student enrollment and other financial issues. The school, which had been part of the GNAC the past several years, was for a long time part of the NAIA before making the jump into the NCAA.

A Mount Si High School grad, Karlie Hurley, is attending Concordia and is being impacted, like all of her peers, by this closure. She is a fifth-year senior there and is currently studying for a Masters in Business Administration degree, while also competing for the school’s track and field team as a senior. She had been with the women’s soccer program there, but the North Bend resident finished her eligibility with that program in 2018. We’re told that the track season will continue and she’ll be able to finish that out, but will need to transfer to another school to finish out her degree studies, which we’re told are not too far away from being completed. Fortunately, she is one of the lucky ones. But what about many of her peers?

Well, a lot of students were shook up by the news understandably and are now working with school officials on transfer options. Additionally, this will impact the conference in two ways – one, some of the Concordia students may end up transferring into other GNAC schools and competing for spots on teams there, and as the transfer is the result of a school closure, the athletes will be eligible immediately, and two, this is one less team in the league, dropping it down to 10 teams overall, so schedules will be impacted as well by this change.

But what of this being a cautionary tale for smaller schools, you say? Well, simply put, because there is guaranteed money at the D-II level as opposed to the NAIA as far as we know, it’s more expensive to operate a college athletic program at the D-II level than at the NAIA, and this perhaps was part of the issue down there that they could no longer sustain themselves with these kinds of expenses, and with the enrollment drops being what they were, simply leaving D-II wasn’t going to be enough to save it. And this is something schools such as Southern Oregon University, Montana Western and Montana Tech, all schools in the NAIA’s Frontier Conference for football who reside within the GNAC footprint and could be contacted at some point in the future about league membership in order to build up the GNAC’s football profile, will have to think about.

Currently, the GNAC is at four schools playing football – Simon Fraser, Western Oregon, Central Washington and Azusa Pacific. They have a schedule arrangement with a Texas-based league, but that arrangement is not expected to last forever and the GNAC will have to figure out a future plan to deal with so few football members at some point down the road. Among the possible options include league expansion with some of the schools mentioned above, but after this week’s news, some of these schools might be thinking twice about such aspirations, especially as Concordia didn’t offer football.

It will be interesting to see how the conference responds to this news, whether it looks to expand in order to keep its numbers intact, or if 10 members will be a perfect number for them moving forward as a league.

Mount Si High School band set to be represented again in arguably the “Super Bowl” of high school jazz bands; community should be excited
It was announced last night by program organizers that the Mount Si High School jazz band been selected to compete as one of the 18 finalist bands for the Essentially Ellington high school jazz band competition in New York City this spring, in May. And this is something the community has been thrilled to see occur, and we believe that should continue this year.

This competition is arguably the “Super Bowl” for high school jazz, as some of the top bands from high schools around the United States compete for the title in this event every year. Mount Si has been back there several times, most recently last spring in fact, and if you remember, last spring, the program, while it didn’t finish in the top three, did receive a standing ovation for its performance at the Lincoln Center during the competition, something which made your editor, a couple of Mount Si administrators and perhaps a lot of folks watching the viewing party that was being held for the performance at the North Bend Theatre very thrilled and beaming with school and community pride to say the least.

Vocalist Sage Eisenhour’s efforts were largely responsible for that standing ovation, and we, as you may remember, recognized her in an Athlete of the Week segment following the competition. She has since graduated – she did so last June – but we’re sure that she will be certainly watching and supporting her peers who will look to carry on that tradition of success.

The announcement of the band’s selection this year seems to us to be a bit late; usually we think this is announced earlier, but the late announcement means that fundraising, which is usually required for this, will need to take place right away, and this time, it might need to be in the form of major corporate sponsorship, so we challenge our local business community to step up and help sponsor this trip and support the futures of these local young musicians. These kids put in as much work if not more than the top athletes who represent Mount Si on the fields of competition on a daily basis and as such should be allowed the kind of opportunities the Ellington event provides.

As we did last spring, we look forward once again this spring to provide this trip coverage here in the Journal.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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