A meeting organized by a small group of Riverside-Brookfield High School parents titled “What we would like to see in RB’s next Athletic Director” drew a crowd of about 20 people to the North Riverside Public Library on Wednesday night.
The meeting was organized primarily by Jerry Buttimer and Chris Robling, two politically active RB parents who had vocally called for the ouster of current RB Athletic Director Otto Zeman.
Many, but not all, in the audience have been active in past efforts with Buttimer and Robling, including the election of three new school board members last year. Last month the District 208 school board voted 4-3 not to rehire Zeman as athletic director for the 2010-11 school year.
Present at the meeting, but just listening, were District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette and the three District 208 school board members – Dan Moon, Matt Sinde and Mike Welch – who were elected in 2009 and who all voted not to rehire Zeman.
District 208 school board President Jim Marciniak, who cast the deciding vote not to rehire Zeman, was not at the meeting and all three school board members who voted in favor of rehiring Zeman – Larry Herbst, Sue Kleinmeyer and MariAnn Leibrandt – also stayed away from the meeting.
The meeting lasted a little more than an hour and was a tame, low-key affair. Four community members, three of whom are former NCAA Division I college athletes, served as meeting panelists and spoke about the qualities they would like to see in RB’s next athletic director. Then audience members asked questions or made comments.
There was consensus that the new athletic director should not also be a coach.
One of the panelists, Riverside resident Maria Hawk, who is the principal of a Catholic elementary school, acknowledged the bitter divisions in the RB community over Zeman.
“I would really like to see someone who can bring people together,” Hawk said.
“I hope we have an athletic director who is an administrator,” said Lou Surprenant, a North Riverside resident and youth sports coach. “I definitely think an athletic director should not be a coach.”
Zeman was head football coach as well as athletic director.
Surprenant, who was not a panelist, also said that he wanted an athletic director who had no previous connection to RB.
“I would like to see someone come from outside the community, someone who has no ties,” Surprenant said.
Robling said he had invited RB Booster Club President Gary Zeleny to participate as a panelist and asked that someone from the Boosters participate on the panel. But Zeleny declined the offer.
Zeleny told the Landmark that the people who organized the meeting were those who had made a lengthy and concerted effort to have Zeman fired and that the Boosters did not want to participate in a meeting they had organized.
“To be part of the group that actually has been attacking Otto for the last two years in some various ways that you guys would never print in your newspaper, I didn’t think that would be right that we would give them any kind of legitimacy,” Zeleny said.
Buttimer said that he thought the meeting was useful.
“We compiled positive policy recommendations for our elected officials,” Buttimer said on Thursday. “A cross section of the community attended, from seniors and Patrons Council members to boosters and we hope that if we can’t reconcile our differences maybe we can set them aside and move on.”
After the meeting ended, Bonnette was asked if he had learned anything new that would help him pick an athletic director.
“Not really,” Bonnette said.
Bonnette plans to unveil his choice for athletic director at next week’s District 208 school board meeting, and the board will probably vote on his recommendation then.
Bonnette made clear that last night’s meeting was not sponsored by the high school.
“We did not have any sponsorship for any aspect of it,” Bonnette said.