Coach resigns citing substance abuse culture
Barb Lyons remains PE teacher, but won’t coach VHS basketball
Tony Gorman photo
Barb Lyons has resigned her post as coach to the Valdez High School Lady Buccaneers basketball team.
Long-time high school basketball coach Barb Lyons resigned her post on the Valdez High School Lady Buccaneer team, saying in a letter “I do not feel I can continue to coach at VHS with the present climate at the school and in the community.”
Lyon’s resignation as coach shocked students, athletes, and other school faculty. A 30-year veteran of the VHS athletics, Lyons said she believes many parents and educators have their heads in the sand regarding the issues of drugs and alcohol use among students and athletes.
“I believe in making a commitment in sports and feel the use of drugs and alcohol has no place in athletics,” she said in a letter dated Oct. 23. “Currently, underage drinking and use of illegal drugs seems to be the norm and not the exception to the rule. Athletes are unwilling to regulate their use, and to help each other to make good decisions.”
Lyons also pointed a finger at parents, claiming parents have covered for the children “instead of making them accept responsibility and the consequences of their actions.”
Lyons will remain a teacher of physical education at Gilson Middle School and is currently coaching its basketball team.
“It’s a privilege, you don’t have to play basketball,” Lyons said in a candid interview Monday afternoon.
“Now, instead of being one or two you have to watch on your team,” it’s one or two that are not abusing drugs, alcohol or both.
“The adults are not holding them accountable,” she said. “They’re screwing up, they’re getting caught and no one’s holding them accountable, no one’s turning them in.”
Lyons also said she believes the problems are not limited to athletes, but the student body in general.
Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek, the school’s principal, disagreed with Lyons’ assessment of the school’s student body.
“I think her resignation is appropriate, given the tone of her letter,” she said.
Balcerek, who is in her second year as principal, said she has taken a hands-on approach in the day-to-day operations of the school and believes many of the accusations regarding substance abuse in schools is based on hearsay.
“I’ve not disciplined anyone for being under the influence of alcohol,” Balcerek said, defending the school against accusations numerous students were drunk at a recent dance held at the school. She said she was a chaperone at the dance, and took issue with “the style of dance” but detected no students under the influence of alcohol.
“It’s really bad gossip,” she said regarding the allegations.
Balcerek acknowledged that young people will make bad choices and need discipline, but defended the student body, calling Valdez High School a beacon of education and its students high achievers.
“I feel I’ve got my hands on the pulse of it,” she said, noting she’s only had to discipline 2 percent of the student population for drugs this school year. “I disagree with Mrs. Lyons and the climate of this school.”
But Balcerek also acknowledged that student behavior off of school property or after hours could be another matter. But she also says it is not under her control.
For Lyons, it matters very much. And not just because rules governing high school athletics in Alaska says she must. She believes athletic achievements are not achievements at all if a student has been abusing drugs or alcohol, period.
She also expressed frustration in the lack of support from adults in general in rooting out substance abuse issues and believes more athletes would be disciplined if personnel did a better job of looking at public records and there was better support using other avenues to root out student substance abuse.
“You have to want to know,” Lyons said.
Rhonda Wegner, activities director for Valdez City Schools, was shocked and saddened by Lyons’ sudden resignation.
“It kind of hit me by surprise,” she said Monday afternoon, but “I understand her frustrations.”
While the athletic department scrambles to hire a new coach, Wegner supplied her point of view on the recent uproar regarding substance abuse by Valdez students – and whispers in the community that she, as a coach, is lax on enforcing rules regarding substance abuse.
Wegner said she will not sacrifice the drug policy put in place by ASSA – the Alaska School Activities Association - to protect her team or its members.
She also believes many of the substance abuse issues are a reflection of the community at large rather than school culture.
“Are they breaking rules behind my back?” she asked rhetorically, “Maybe.”
She pointed to the fact one of her volleyball players was disciplined for shoplifting in an incident that occurred out of town.
“I think it’s a bigger issue with what’s going on at home rather than what’s going on at school,” she said. “I think our parents make it a little more lax.”
Wegner said she is very close to her students and athletes – she is also the school’s art teacher – and talks to kids about issues, such as substance abuse. She also noted that school officials and coaches cannot base disciplinary actions against students without credible evidence of wrongdoing.
“School’s don’t have to prove it,” she said. “They’re not a court of law.”
While the school board and concerned parents have begun serious talks of revising and reviewing the district’s dr and alcohol policy, there has been conflicting information regarding how much of the problem is in the halls of the district’s schools, and how much of the problem occurs off hours or off school property.
Tony Gorman photo
Barb Lyons is still coaching the Lady Huskies basketball team at Gilson Middle School. She will also retain her physical education teaching post at the school.
Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer said there has indeed been an uptick in underage substance abuse activities involving the police department.
While elected officials, law enforcement, parents and faculty wrestle with ways to address underage substance abuse, Lyons said her resignation stands.
“Parents, when your kids come home drunk you need to do something about that,” Lyons said. “The school, I think, should toughen up the rules.”
While there is widespread disagreement on the issues, what is really happening and where, or even how to address them wisely, few could dispute Balcerek’s parting statement.
“We’ve absolutely got to get together on this,” she said, “The kids need us.”