DEWITT, Mich.—Concerns about the possible discontinuation of two youth archery teams dominated the DeWitt Board of Education meeting on April 10. During public comment, several parents and students expressed anger and sadness over the possibility that both teams might be cut.
The first group is the DeWitt Archery Team LLC. In December, parents formed a new non-profit team, DeWitt Panthers Archery Club. However, according to several members of the DeWitt Board of Education, the clubs are now at odds, risking their continuance.
President Jason Hanselman said the clubs were at risk because the Department of Natural Resources had reported unsportsmanlike conduct among the coaches, failure to keep the students emotionally, physically and psychologically safe and unharmonious behavior between clubs.
Many parents and students have fought to defend the teams. They claim it has provided a haven for students who may not fit in or find friends elsewhere, including neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ students. Parent Amy Trombley attended the meeting with her son to plead for the team to continue.
Fighting tears, Trombley said that her son had tried out for many sports, but other kids bullied him or made him feel like he didn’t belong. She described the bullying her son faced and what she said was inaction from the school. This changed when he found archery, she said, and he was able to grow confidence and find friends.
“The change that we’ve seen in [my son] since joining this team is incredible,” Trombley said. “He’s a completely different kid. I seriously cannot say enough good things about this team and the coaches. They truly care about the kids on the team. I don’t expect you to fully understand because to really understand you need to be there … you need to interact with these kids and see how they feel about this team.”
George Berghorn and Doug Irrer, two parents from the DeWitt Panthers Archery Club, also expressed disappointment in the school. Berghorn said that without board action, over 60 kids will lose the opportunity to do archery. He said the superintendent had prioritized other programs instead.
“These 60 kids are counting on you working with the people involved in DeWitt archery to find a solution to this problem,” Berghorn said.
Abby Lorenzen said she didn’t care about the drama between the parents. She just wanted her kids to do archery. Lorenzen, along with many other parents, stated that the kids in archery needed the program to sustain friendships.
“I don’t care who runs it,” Lorenzen said. “I don’t care how it works … but this school has got to take it over because the 60 kids that are out there are the kids that are susceptible to bullying. They’re susceptible to all the things we’re trying to get out of our schools … I really think you’re doing a disservice if you don’t do the minimum of allowing the school to take the program over and let the coaches of both teams work it out and get volunteers and everything they need.”
In response to the outcry, Trustee Angelina Barnes said that although she didn’t disagree with anything the DNR letter said, kids should not be punished for their parents’ actions. She said a solution would require the poor conduct to cease immediately.
“I think that the fact that we are in this situation, and we have adults who haven’t done what the kids need done to make this program sustainable and to continue is heartbreaking,” Barnes said. “What I don’t want is all of these children to not have a place to go when there is a possible solution that the school could assist with.”
According to Superintendent Shanna Spickard, the teams must work out a proposal together and submit the agreement to her. If she approves of the terms, she will give it to the Department of Natural Resources to accept. Spickard said the teams must join as one program for this to work.
Barnes motioned for the superintendent to work to resolve the issues raised by the DNR to keep the archery program going. However, when Hanselman said he wouldn’t support the motion because its language was “too strong,” one parent stormed out of the meeting, yelling at the board. In response, Vice-President John Tramontana said parents, not the board, had let their children down.
A new motion for Spickard to take reasonable steps to work with the groups was presented and unanimously passed. The board set May 1 as the target date for the two groups to reach an agreement.