By Sarah Plummer
Raleigh County parents Ashley Williams and David Hart expressed their concerns over their children not attending Saturday’s MSAC wrestling tournament in Parkersburg after school was closed Friday due to inclement weather.
Williams asked why the Woodrow Wilson wrestling team missed its tournament while Woodrow Wilson played basketball games on Friday and Saturday.
Additionally, she said the Woodrow wrestling team was not allowed to practice on Saturday although its girls basketball team played a game in Woodrow’s gymnasium that night.
“This was unfair,” Williams said. “The team has to practice to stay on weight and remain conditioned. They can’t take four or five days off. This is my son’s senior year and he is talking to colleges and needs to get a good seed at the regionals.”
Superintendent Jim Brown confirmed that school and all extracurricular activities were canceled with the exception of the Big Atlantic Classic, a basketball tournament held annually at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center that features schools from several counties.
“The decision was ultimately made by me in conjunction with assistant superintendent Mr. (David) Price and the transportation director. The bottom line was that we felt it was unsafe to put buses on the roads coming back on the turnpike when there was a prediction of snow up to 5 inches. And the road conditions in Beckley and Parkersburg were bad,” he said.
Brown noted that a band event at Marshall University and a swim competition at the University of Charleston were also canceled.
He went on to say that coaches and athletic directors were told, “If they had parents that were willing to transport their own child and the coaches were willing to go, we would not stop them from making the trip.”
He further explained that students were allowed to attend the local tournament only if individual players’ parents drove them to the game.
Williams emphatically expressed that she was not given the option to drive her son to the event.
Brown and Price both said they spoke directly with Woodrow Wilson High School Athletic Director Tim Carrico and the option was “clearly communicated.”
Board member Richard Jarrell said he spoke with wrestling coach Chad Sarrett on the phone while watching the Big Atlantic Classic and reiterated the option for parents to drive their own children to the MSAC tournament.
At that time, Sarrett, already in Parkersburg, had just pulled the team from the competition, he said.
Williams said she believed the coach received clear instructions from the school principal, “No driving. No putting children in cars.”
Brown apologized for Williams’ son not attending the match but stood firm in his choice to cancel the bus trip.
“I’m always going to err on the side of caution, especially when it deals with students,” he said. “Five years from now, I won’t remember that there was a missed wrestling match, but if we had a student injured or killed coming back on a bus from a match, I’d take that to my grave.”
“Five years from now, we can’t send my senior wrestler back to the MSAC tournament,” the mother responded.
Hart asked, regardless of the board stipulation, how many students the board thought probably drove themselves to the tournament and, “If Friday’s announcement said there were not extracurricular activities, why was Woodrow Wilson permitted to play in the (basketball) tournament?”
“Honestly, I wanted to shut it down,” said Brown. “It was a local event and the only precaution we could put in place was to make sure students were not driving. We weren’t putting an employee behind the wheel of a school bus. In hindsight, we should have shut it down.”
The parents again asked about why the wrestling team was not permitted to practice locally on Saturday.
Brown and Price both said the board did not receive a request for the team to practice on Saturday.
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On a side note, Jarrell expressed concern that, according to Williams, the Woodrow Wilson wrestling team was fined $1,000 for not attending the tournament.
Jarrell asked Superintendent Brown and Board President Richard Snuffer to pressure the conference to have a plan B prepared in case of inclement weather.
“More than half the schools playing at the tournament were closed on Friday. They should not put you and every other superintendent and every other coach who has the passion to compete in this situation,” he said.
They should also have considered canceling, he added.
— E-mail: splummer