Ketchikan High School football coach Les Silva was fired last Friday, and several football players were suspended. Kayhi principal Sam Nelson took those steps after a confrontation between the football players and Kayhi Activities Director Ed Klein. At the Ketchikan School Board meeting Wednesday night, more than a dozen people commented on the firing and suspensions, with the whole football team standing behind them.
There has been tension between the Kayhi football team and school administration since the beginning of the season — over the game schedule, over funding. Last Thursday, the tension came to head.
After Sitka cancelled their game against Ketchikan, former coach Silva says he was trying to extend the season and add another home game.
Silva says Ed Klein called him Thursday saying that wasn’t possible. Silva says Klein told him the Alaska School Activities Association would not approve another game for Ketchikan. Then, Silva says he called Billy Strickland, the director of ASAA, and Strickland told him it was possible – that Klein would need to submit a request to ASAA to extend the season. Silva says he then tried calling Klein multiple times, with no answer.
“So finally I left a message,” Silva said. “I said ‘Hey Mr. Klein, all we need is for you to put in a request for the season to be extended to try and get this game. Will you please try and make this happen?'”
Silva says after practice that day, his team asked him about what Klein said, and he told them he wasn’t able to get ahold of him. He says the players asked him to try calling Klein again, so he called him and put it on speaker phone, and again there was no answer.
“I said to the seniors, as an individual on your own, if you feel you have to go talk to the AD, yeah go ahead talk to him, ask him that question,” Silva said. “Because we’ve been trying to get a hold of him, I left him a message. But if on your way home you want to stop by the school and he’s still there, ask him a question, ask him what we need.
Silva says he couldn’t stop by the school after practice because he had to be somewhere else. He says eight students went to the school and tried talking to Klein, but Klein said he wouldn’t talk to them, only their coach. Silva says one of the students got in front of Klein’s car when he was trying to leave.
The next day, Kayhi principal Sam Nelson fired Silva.
“I don’t regret [telling the students they could talk to Klein] because I feel as an individual and a young adult, if they wanted to go, and I said if you want to go on your own, I have no problem with that. To ask a question,” Silva said.
Silva says it’s a matter of free speech. He says he doesn’t feel like he was leading them to confront Klein. And he doesn’t feel like it was inappropriate for the students to talk to Klein.
The students who were involved were suspended, but not in a conventional way.
“It’s actually a suspension to school on Friday when everybody else is out,” Superintendent Robert Boyle said.
Boyle is investigating the suspensions and firing after a parent filed a complaint. Kayhi Principal Sam Nelson declined to comment until that investigation is over.
At the School Board meeting, it was clear many of the students and parents involved in football hoped Silva would be reinstated as coach after the investigation concluded.
“Many of us in this room and the community feel the decision to fire Les Silva and suspend the players is based on incomplete and unsubstantiated evidence,” said parent Eric Eichner.
“The main thing that we care about is getting our head coach back,” said freshman football player Cody Malouf. “We can take a suspension from school for day, but we cannot take the firing of our head coach. It’d just be devastating to the team.”
Silva also spoke to the School Board.
“It hurts me a lot, it really does hurt me a lot. It gets to my heart, gets to my soul, my pride. And who’s getting hurt most of all is these families and these kids,” he said.
Klein spoke as well.
“This past week I received many kind comments from many people. And I’d like to thank those people for that,” Klein said.
A couple people spoke in support of the school administration. One person commented that Principal Nelson did not make the decision to fire Silva based on just the Thursday incident.
Superintendent Boyle said that is his understanding as well. He said the aggravating factors included ‘disagreements on games and uses of fields, [and] in particular the approach in voicing their disagreements.’
Parents told the School Board that the football team planned a scrimmage Thursday at Esther Shea Field to give their seniors a last hurrah. They asked the board whether the scrimmage would be possible now that the season’s done. Boyle said he needs to clear it with ASAA and make sure the school is protected from liabilities, since it would be an unsanctioned game.
At the end of the meeting, after all of the football commentators had cleared out and the board had conducted the rest of its scheduled business, they reflected on where to go from here.
“I do think that as a board, we need to really examine the processes of activities and how things are scheduled and the monies used so that it’s clear to the people fundraising for these activities to know what the rules are, how things are supposed to go,” Board Member Colleen Scanlon said.
“I think it’s a whole series of issues, it’s not just one issue that we need to look at or that is being brought forward to us,” Board Member Stephen Bradford said. “And nobody here knows what did happen at the school that Thursday night.”
Short term, Superintendent Boyle says he will find out whether the team can scrimmage this Thursday night. A little bit longer term, he’ll examine the decisions to fire Silva and suspend the players. And long term, the School Board hopes to make the communication process between the athletic director and sports teams more clear so that tensions don’t escalate into an incident like this again.