Orono High School Principal Jim Chasse and athletic administrator Mike Archer failed to follow proper school protocol, which ultimately led to the resignation of girls basketball coach Jessica Witham after nine years at the helm, according to her resignation letter.
Witham, an Orono High School Sports Hall of Famer, guided the Red Riots to 128 wins in her nine seasons, and the Riots have played in three Eastern Maine Class C championship games over the past five seasons.
Witham released her letter of resignation to the media Tuesday after Orono Superintendent Joanne C. Harriman released a heavily edited version of the letter last week that excluded the reasons for Witham’s resignation.
Witham’s letter of resignation said she was “concerned about the administration of the girls basketball program, specifically in regard to the Athletic Administrator and Principal.”
“In my opinion, procedures and protocols in the co-curricular contract were not followed when concerns were brought to the administrators’ attention at the end of the 2014-15 basketball season,” she said in the letter.
“Player and parent concerns were handled without any regard to my initial input and without the opportunity for me to be present for an open, honest discussion. Instead, I found out through phone calls and forwarded emails from caring, respectful parents who felt I deserved to know what is happening. When I contacted the Athletic Administrator, I was told conflicting stories,” she said in the letter.
“I also feel a conflict of interest with the Principal played a role in why protocol was not followed,” she said in the letter.
Chasse’s daughter Brinsley Chasse was a sophomore guard on the team.
The Bangor Daily News had learned from sources who asked not to be named that a small group of parents were unhappy with their daughters’ playing time and Witham’s coaching style.
Harriman did not return phone calls from the BDN requesting comment but Archer and Chasse responded via text and email and said school representatives are not permitted to discuss personnel issues with the general public due to state law.
Chasse said Archer has started the search to fill the position.
Witham stated in her letter of resignation that the school board policies and procedures in the “Parent-Staff Communication Policy” section of the Orono High School Co-Curricular Contract were followed for the first eight years of her tenure.
“I am not sure what changed and why the process was not followed this year. Furthermore, I have asked this question to the Athletic Administrator and Principal in multiple emails since I became aware of this situation,” she said in the letter.
“They have chosen not to directly answer my question,” she said in the letter.
“After thinking about and processing these happenings over the past few weeks, I have concluded that had the protocols for handling player and parent concerns been followed, the program would have moved forward in a positive direction. Instead, (by) the administrators handling this situation poorly caused it to escalate,”
“I am very disappointed in the administration and I feel that because of the way they handled this situation, they have caused irreparable damage to my relationships with the players on the team and my reputation. For these reasons, I feel I can no longer lead the Orono High School girls basketball girls basketball program effectively. There needs to be accountability and I would hope this situation would be investigated,” she said in the letter.
In the Parent/Staff Communication Policy, which is part of the Orono Co-Curricular Contract, it states that there are three steps to take if the student-athlete or the parent has a concern: First, encourage the student-athlete to go directly to the coach/adviser to discuss the concern; second, respectfully request a meeting with the coach to discuss the concern. (Administrator may be present); third, request a meeting with the athletic director or administrator.
Students and parents must both sign the co-curricular contract form.
There also is a section below the three steps that reads: “Please note: Issues concerning playing time, game or practice strategy are decisions that our coaches are empowered and qualified to make. While there may be differences of opinion on these issues, we ask that you remain respectful and supportive of the coaches’ decisions on these matters.”
Witham had prefaced the release of her letter of resignation by sending an email to media in which she wrote, “In my letter of resignation, I requested that the letter be read at the next RSU 26 School Board meeting and I had chosen not to comment further on this matter to the media for personal reasons.”
“However, over the past few days, speculation has grown that parents of the players were behind my resignation. I believe some of these parents have been criticized when they were not involved and it is not fair to them or to their daughters,” wrote Witham in explaining her rationale for releasing the letter of resignation.
“My decision to resign was not made because of all of the parents. Parents had been very supportive over my first eight years of coaching and, for the most part, parents were supportive of me this season as well.
“My decision to resign was not made because of the players. I can’t say enough about the wonderful young ladies I have had the pleasure to coach over nine years. They have worked hard and represented Orono with class and dignity.
“Once again, I would like to thank all of the players, parents and others who have supported me through this process. Best wishes to all of you.”