Sitting at the mic in a room packed with supporters, former football coach Troy Muir appealed to the Philomath School Board during its Thursday night meeting to allow him to volunteer with the high school boys basketball team.
Philomath High boys basketball coach Blake Ecker told the Philomath News that he received an application earlier this year from Muir for an assistant coaching vacancy. Ecker said he didn’t offer the paid position to Muir but did ask then-Athletic Director Tony Matta if he could bring him into the program in another capacity.
“He said, ‘yeah, possibly a volunteer spot might work,’” Ecker recalled. “But at that time, we really didn’t know what the superintendent wanted to do.”
Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday ultimately decided to not allow Muir to volunteer for the basketball team.
“I have over 350 signatures in here that show the support from the community in wanting to see me get back involved at the high school level or any level in general as a volunteer,” Muir told the board. “I just see no reason at this point to deny me that opportunity simply based on what appearances show and how it looks. At some point, we turn the page and give me another chance.”
Muir, who owns Marys Peak True Value and other businesses in town, was the PHS head football coach in 2016 when a hazing controversy surfaced following a summer camp at Camp Rilea. Six players admitted to misdemeanor harassment charges with incidents that had involved 11 freshmen. A volunteer assistant was cited for misdemeanor second-degree criminal mistreatment.
At the time of the controversy, Melissa Goff was the superintendent. Rick Wells was among those sitting on the School Board and the decision was made to cancel the varsity football season. Wells currently serves as the board’s chair.
Ecker said he has no issues with Muir’s past and referred to all of the recent coaching assignments that he’s had with the middle school, Philomath Youth Activities Club and just recently with the boys basketball team’s summer workouts.
“Though I have been approved as a district volunteer that can volunteer in any other capacity within the district, just not as a coach, is now bordering on the edge of discrimination,” Muir told the board. “I have strong ties, obviously, in the community and since my contract was not renewed seven years ago as the head football coach at the high school — as I was leaving the building on that night and I talked to (reporter) Brad (Fuqua) at that point, I told him I was going to continue to work and do what I could in the community.”
As Ecker mentioned, Muir has since coached football and basketball at the middle school and through PYAC.
“I think I’ve done what is necessary over the last few years to be able to justify that opportunity,” Muir said. “I’m here to coach and teach and mentor and hold them accountable — make them the best possible student athlete that they can be.”
Ecker said Muir had even suggested that he not sit on the bench during basketball games if there were issues with appearances. He would only help during practices and sit in the stands with everybody else.
Muir’s interaction with the School Board did not appear on the agenda and was part of the public comments portion of the meeting. A standing-room-only crowd backed him up and three individuals shared their views — local businessman Greg Henderson, middle school coach Rick Bennett and high school coach Whitney Thomas Rasmussen.
Henderson spoke about Muir’s impact on his son, who is now 22, and how his coaching structure led to improved grades in school so he could participate in athletics.
“A lot of his own time went into just one kid, let alone the rest of the team … it’s hard to find people to do that,” Henderson said. “Now I have an 11-year-old coming through again that just eats and lives by Troy’s coaching — he just got through coaching his football team this year.”
Bennett, a business owner and longtime coach employed by the school district, spoke highly of Muir’s coaching abilities.
“All these young men you see behind us are all young men that are here to support Troy,” Bennett said, referring to a large group of athletes sitting on the floor of the conference room. “I feel privileged to be able to coach with him because I learned a lot from him and his ability to interact with student athletes.”
Muir has coached with Bennett on offseason tournament teams.
“I think he really deserves a chance to be able to help out the current high school coaches,” Bennett added. “I think every one of these kids behind me would say the same thing.”
Rasmussen, who is an assistant volleyball coach at PHS, said she could provide a unique perspective as someone who has represented and advocated for underserved and more marginalized populations in the community through her work in the district attorney’s office and with the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence.
“The players, parents and most siblings of those involved in 2016 have since moved on from the district,” she said. “The biggest factor that has stood out to me throughout the course of 2016 were the voices that were never heard. They were the voices of the children, like my son, who were forgotten. They were never asked their opinions. They were never asked their thoughts and feelings and they were certainly never taken into consideration when making district-level decisions.”
All three speakers asked for Muir to be allowed to coach.
“Troy was never charged with any wrongdoing in 2016, is continuing to coach at both PYAC and the middle school and as an approved volunteer by the district,” Rasmussen added. “Others would have given up by now, waved the white flag and thrown in the towel but Troy continues to fight for his right to coach in our district because it’s what his son and his friends want to happen.”
Nobody spoke in opposition to Muir’s appeal but it was also not formally advertised in advance as an issue that would surface at the meeting.
Prior to the public comments and after another board member read the ground rules, Wells issued a reminder to those in attendance: “There’s three things that the board is responsible for and that’s hiring and evaluating the superintendent, being fiscally responsible with the district and setting policy.”
Halliday said later that she appreciated the voices that spoke out at the meeting and confirmed that she will meet with Wells to review comments and formulate a response.
“It’s not a board decision at this point in time to make this decision … that rests with the administration, which includes Susan, the administrators at the high school and whatnot,” Wells said during the meeting. “So I will be in contact with Susan and talk to her and see what we can come up with.”
Wells also said that as part of the appeal process, he would need to look at policy and review what steps need to be taken. He said he hopes that could happen within a week.
“I thank everybody for coming and showing support for Troy and allowing us to work through the system the way that it needs to be done,” Wells said.