The Hot Corner: Coach's firing leaves foul odor

I’ve spent two days crafting flowery would-be leads and weighing the merits of the Queen’s English.

Forget it. Thursday night’s firing of Spruce Mountain High School football coach Mark Bonnevie was steaming garbage.

Oh, excuse me. Not firing. I meant the “vote not to appoint” Bonnevie. Or the “decision not to renew” Bonnevie. When we’re discussing people’s misdeeds in the political arena for the purpose of advancing their own filthy agenda, we should employ their talking-in-circles jargon, after all.

Call it what you will. Just make sure you call it another dark day in the endangered world of youth sports. And a caustic chapter in the arrested development of the fledgling Regional School Unit 73 sports program, where the wishes and best interests of the many have been shouted down by the ignorant whim of the few.

Bonnevie, who led the consolidated program for one season after a lengthy and successful tenure at Jay High School, was dismissed by a plurality of the district board of directors. Two of the 13 elected officials were absent from the 6-3 vote. Two more abstained.

It’s telling that much discussion of Bonnevie’s fate was conducted in “executive session,” two dirty words that public figures increasingly use to shield themselves from public examination.

The open-book portion of the meeting also reeked to high heaven. It consisted mostly of Bonnevie’s minority of detractors (picture ex-jocks clad in ill-fitting letterman jackets from a school that no longer exists) ripping him to shreds with few rebuttals.

Funny, then, how social media lit up all day and night Friday with former players and colleagues praising Bonnevie and his many accomplishments as a coach, mentor, father figure and developer of boys into men.

Clearly those people would have blocked off their calendars and rushed to Bonnevie’s defense had they been given wind of this railroading. What it tells me is that administrators and board members did the rock-bottom minimum alerting the public to the timing and tone of this meeting.

Interesting that when the same people needed to rush this school merger through the proper channels little more than a year ago, you couldn’t miss those announcements. They were practically pulling banners behind airplanes above Routes 4, 17 and 133 to let people know.

In light of that grievous failure to furnish equal time, and because the class-act Bonnevie elected mostly to bite his tongue, allow me.

One parent said that Bonnevie needed to work on talking and listening to players.

Kumbaya, my Lord. Welcome to 2012, when an educator’s job apparently is to facilitate comfortable discussion. I wonder if these fathers, uncles and grandfathers heard “come and let us reason together” when they were hitting the sled for Ron Beedy, Jim Hersom, John Taglienti or Mike Henry.

Another dissenting voice expressed concerns that many players were sitting on the bench and not getting appropriate playing time.

Gadzooks! Could it be — shame on me for even asking — that your kid isn’t nearly as good as the one starting? I’ve known Bonnevie long enough to recognize that he is one competitive dude. If he thought Joey Smith from East Livermore gave him a better chance to win football games than Jimmy Jones from Chisholm, I can promise you that Joey would be playing. Heck, maybe he was saving your overmatched kid from getting hurt.

Then came the hilarious suggestion that Bonnevie should look into a summer football program.

Jay participated in Leavitt’s 7-on-7 league since its inception, and Spruce followed suit. Again, not all the kids will get to play. That's why it's called "varsity football." It's a select activity.

Bonnevie also tirelessly supervised the school’s year-round strength and conditioning program to the extent that Maine Principals’ Association rules allow.

Of course, booting your supremely qualified coach nine weeks before that existing summer program is slated to begin makes perfect sense. Way to sabotage your kids’ development in the name of advocating for them.

Dismissal of a football coach this late in a school year should be the fallout only from some great moral or ethical disaster.

You won’t find that here. Bonnevie is above reproach. He is a good man who has never had anything but every athlete’s best interests at heart. Ask any of the dozens of former players who expressed their day-after disbelief in cyberspace.

But it was easy to see this coming for at least one coach in year one of the experiment that turned rivals into stable-mates of convenience. And football was the ideal breeding ground for such infectious activity.

Each school had a veteran coach — Bonnevie of Jay and Brad Bishop of Livermore Falls — with keen interest in the job. The result was a contentious, protracted interview process and the natural forming of factions.

Tri-townies held unreasonable expectations that were founded upon two schools’ success in a bygone era of more and better athletes. To think that a pair of short-handed Class C programs would meld immediately into a Class B power was absurd. Making the playoffs was a praiseworthy accomplishment.

No game has a greater need for continuity than football. To anoint Bonnevie as your man nine games ago, only to allow this inexcusable skewering, short-changes all Spruce Mountain football players and sets back their program at least two years.

It’s also a cautionary tale to the successor or to any current member of the RSU 73 coaching staff: Have one eye over your shoulder. And one nostril following the scent of the garbage.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is

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Roger Moulton's picture

Thank you!

Thank you Mr. Oakes for having a pair and telling the story like it is. I expected to hear from several former players and the likes but didn't expect anyone from the media to have the courage to tell it the way it is, regardless of who will be "offended".
I had the great pleasure of being coached by Mark Bonnevie. And he was everything that you have given him credit for and more. He really is about as close as I think you can get to the definition of a good man. I wonder if the schoolboard has to disclose what members voted against his return. Of course it's a small town and I'm sure I can find out. I'm just hoping that the next time election comes up for schoolboard members that I have the time to help anyone running against any of those 6. I'm curious if any of those 6 even attended any of the games. They are a disgrace to school board members everywhere. I also am curious as to how any parent could say that Mark Bonnevie needs to learn how to talk and listen to children? He is very approachable and would do anything he can to help his players, I played for him 10 years ago and know without a doubt that I could call him for advice right now and he'd listen and give me that advice. But even if he wasn't the best at talking or listening to kids (which again he's very good at both) who the heck cares? I mean he's a football coach right not the guidance counselor? Not to mention his team just doubled in size. Should he have a 4 hour support group session after each practice so that all kids can tell us about their "feelingths". (and yes the th is supposed to be there). I'm assuming the parent that made that statement has a child that would likely start on a lot of class C highschool football teams, but wouldn't be allowed to be the waterboy on any decent class b school. I could go on and on and on about this but I suppose I'll end it here. Don't want to be a Rambler. lol although I think I'd rather be a Rambler than a Pheonix at this point in time. Thanks again Mr Oakes for having a pair I will now be reading your column regularly.

 's picture

Excellent article Kalle! I

Excellent article Kalle! I don't always agree with you but on this you are spot on. Mark has been a good coach for the kids and it would sound like an agenda by former SAD 36 folks was definately in play. The feel good idea that all kids get equal time is for AYS--not high school football. To allow parents much input in the program is also a carry over from the little league program. The consolidation was fast tracked through and we are stuck with it but hopefully cooler minds will prevail in the future and small town polotics will not be part of decisions the board makes.

Roger Moulton's picture

Ellen is mostly right.

The only statement I'll disagree with is that the feel good idea that everyone plays is for AYS. Most AYS programs don't even do that unless they are up big or down big. It's sports and competition, whoever is the better competitor or athlete should play the majority if not all of every game. If nothing else it's an early awakening for your children that life isn't always fair and if you want something bad enough you have to earn it. One of this communities favorite AYS coaches was coach Venskus because he won a lot of games. Let me ask any of you that ever watched even just one of his practices if you thought he spoke well and listened well. Not saying he was a bad coach or guy, again it's football not ballroom dancing. My point about that is, how are we as a community going to allow coach Venskus to speak and act the way that he did (to 13 and 14yr old boys) yet say MARK BONNEVIE? of all people needs to learn how to speak better and listen better. I wish I would have known about the meeting and been able to attend so I could have asked this parent if they needed a ride to St. Mary's or AMHI or wherever they send people that have such dilusional thoughts. And whoever disliked Ellen's statement is clearly a former sad 36 administrator, one of the intelligence challenged 6, or a parent from LF with a kid that should do ballroom dancing instead of play football.


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