Never can I remember being so proud to be a part of a community as I felt to be a resident of Lawrence on Friday, and it had next to nothing to do with the solo birdie I carded on No. 3 at Alvamar public in the Chamber of Commerce scramble.
The birdie — booming drive, memorable 7-iron, uphill, buttery-smooth, left-to-right putt — came immediately after I learned that Lawrence High basketball coach Mike Lewis had been reinstated, thanks to the thorough, fair-minded, selfless work of the school board.
Our town elected school board members brimming with enough courage to open their minds and their ears, enough conviction to ask questions that needed to be asked, to question authority normally protected by a cocoon of power.
A group bow is in order for Kristie Adair, Rick Ingram, Shannon Kimball, Randy Matsen, Keith Diaz Moore, Adina Morse and Vanessa Sanburn. They left their rubber stamps at home and made a decision that has the potential to make their jobs more difficult in the future.
And not to be forgotten, the 300 or so members of our community who showed up to go to bat for Mike Lewis, a fine man and a steadily improving basketball coach, at Monday’s school-board meeting need to take a bow as well.
The crowd consisted of former players from Lewis’ youth-basketball coaching days. Parents of those players. Friends of the coach. Local businessmen. Gutsy teachers. Those who spoke did an amazing job. Those who sat and listened had to be blown away by the powerful three-minute testimonials delivered by parents of Lawrence High basketball players and most powerfully, the players themselves.
The respectful tone used by teenagers taught us all a lesson in how to disagree. Think Internet message boards. Now think the total opposite of that. Respectful, bright, pointed. In a word, amazing.
The easy road for the school board to take led to a conclusion that to empower those unhappy with a teacher in the district keeping his teaching job and losing his $4,900-a-year coaching position would arm complainers forever more.
To do so would be to leave Lewis alone on the high road, where beneath him some must have wondered what awful things he did to deserve getting the boot after a 17-5 record. They met with the superintendent, the principal and the athletic director, asked them all the questions that needed to be asked, and received answers that made them realize the coach did nothing to deserve his family and himself go through a miserable stretch of nearly two weeks.
During my one conversation with Lewis after his firing, I worked every quadrant of the strike zone, trying to get him to offer at pitches he told himself he would not swing at. He kept saying that he told his players he didn’t want to see, hear or feel any negativity from them and having told them that, he would have felt hypocritical offering any of his own. That’s my kind of educator.
Lewis was vague about the reasons he was given for losing his coaching job, which led some to falsely assume he had something to hide. Had he had anything to hide, he would have done what administrators wanted him to do, which was to issue a phony statement that he was resigning to spend more time with his family. I might believe him if he had said he was resigning to spend less time with his family, but his wife and children are a huge part of the LHS basketball program.
Kudos to basketball referee/attorney Mark Samsel, businessmen Andy Vigna and Terry Jacobsen, who dripped with common sense at the school-board meeting and to former Lions sharp-shooter Jake Mosiman, a University of Arkansas freshman who rather than join friends in Friday revelry on a Friday night, spoke from the heart in support of his former coach on the phone. Chuck Law, coach of rival Free State High, was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, a classy show of support.
Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self, using humor to make his message subtle, also spoke out in support of Lewis. In this town, Self’s voice makes E.F. Hutton’s sound inaudible, so it was nice of him to add strength to a just cause.
I couldn’t for the life of me pay attention during my unspectacular academic career, keeping many interesting lessons about democracy from drifting into my distracted brain. But for one powerful week, I witnessed democracy at work in Lawrence, learning lessons I’ll never forget. Lawrence spoke up, made its voice heard, and taught us all that when you feel the need to raise your voice, you need not lower your level.