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Area Football: VanOverbeke back on the job at Staples-Motley

As of Wednesday, "TBD" in large, bold letters remained behind football on Staples-Motley's page on the Minnesota State High School League website. It can return to its original posting of Travis VanOverbeke since the Cardinals' former head footba...

Travis VanOverbek
Travis VanOverbek

As of Wednesday, "TBD" in large, bold letters remained behind football on Staples-Motley's page on the Minnesota State High School League website.

It can return to its original posting of Travis VanOverbeke since the Cardinals' former head football coach is returning following a 4-2 vote to hire him for his former position at Monday's school board meeting.

VanOverbeke's contract was not renewed following a 3-3 school board vote April 17. All ties become a no vote.

The process of finding a new head coach went to a four-member hiring committee, which consisted of Kevin Roline, Bruce Fuhrman, Craig Wolhowe and Chris Halverson. The committee agreed unanimously VanOverbeke was the best candidate for the job. A few interested parties inquired about the job, but didn't apply. The committee interviewed one other candidate.

The recommendation was approved with a change to a yes vote by board member Chad Longbella.

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That night, VanOverbeke's phone died.

"My phone was a pinball machine," said VanOverbeke. "It was really quite a relief. Immediately following the meeting, I gave some very close people a phone call, obviously family, very close friends, people that were in the know with this scenario and people that have been there since really when the school year started.

"As you can imagine, there are quite a few colleagues within the coaching ranks and being the activities director there were quite a few people that have been following this. It spread quick. It wasn't something that I spread. Information got out there quite fast."

VanOverbeke led the Cardinals to a 5-5 season and a spot in the Section 6-2A semifinals last fall. In 2015, S-M snapped a 39-game losing streak that spanned five seasons, including VanOverbeke's first. S-M finished 2015 with a 6-4 record and a win in the Section 6-2A quarterfinals.

The reason for VanOverbeke's initial non-renewal is unknown as school officials cited data privacy, but it didn't prevent rumors from swirling throughout the school district. VanOverbeke's position as the district's activities director and as a physical education teacher were not affected by the coaching position interruption.

"It was a little bit of shock," said VanOverbeke. "I don't know how often it happens that somebody goes after their job a second time and obtains that job. Just immediately following the shock, the thinking went to how much work needed to be done. There have been a lot of items that were shelved ultimately since November when the season was over with."

VanOverbeke's first job as head football coach and activities director will be rehiring all of his assistant coaches, who resigned at an April 25 special meeting of the school board.

VanOverbeke said it was a discussion that happened immediately following the board meeting. He feels confident all of his assistants will return to their positions. He hasn't spoken with each one-on-one, but through text messages and emails there was excitement to return to the football program.

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"What has impressed me the most about all of the coaches through this entire process, even with their resignations, they have taken the high road and professional road among their student athletes and their colleagues," said Staples-Motley High School principal Mike Schmidt. "As far as how Travis has handled it-like a professional."

It wasn't easy, said VanOverbeke. He said the process was emotional. It wasn't easy for him nor for his players and coaching staff. He said he evaluated why he was doing what he was doing.

VanOverbeke grew up on a farm and admitted 10 hours alone on a tractor seemed appealing, but in the end he loves what he does.

"I could have stepped away from this entirely, but I had a lot of support and a lot of people in our football program who are on board with what our coaching staff has tried to build over the course of three years," said the coach. "I was not going to make a selfish decision. It was necessary that I reapply and we try to get back to what we were doing.

"It's been very difficult, the entire process. I've had some good mentors and advisors who indicated that I should let others speak on my behalf and I've been doing that. I think that has worked itself out. I've been in close contact with my assistant coaches because I don't just view them as coaches-we're pretty good friends. That's been simple to talk with those guys about everything that has been going on.

"To sit in some of the school board meetings and not say much or anything at all has been hard. There have been a couple of school board meetings where people are talking just athletics in general and even in those scenarios I just kind of bit my lip and stayed quiet due to the scenario happening."

VanOverBeke was hired by Schmidt three years ago. Schmidt agreed with the committee's recommendation that VanOverBeke was the best candidate for the football position. He said the entire process created problems throughout the district-most not relating to football.

"I think, for the high school community, it became more a bigger question about programing for our students," said Schmidt. "Our student athletes, and their families, are also involved with the arts, other sports, activities, you name it. Furthermore, those kids occupy many of our college-in-schools courses, career Tech-Ed, Bridges Academies. We rely on these student athletes day in and day out. Not just for football.

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"So really, for us as a school, there was a curriculum impact, there was going to be a program impact, but in addition the impact we could have had on seven other school districts and we heard from them. We are scheduled to be four homecoming nights for somebody.

"I'm really glad that we're kind of back to normal-again."

S-M might be back to normal, but recent events may create opportunities for internal review, said Schmidt. He called this an opportunity for a review of S-M's policies, procedures and other statewide practices.

Schmidt also said the process ignited an active community. He said more than 75 concerned community members and students packed the board room Monday to show support for the committee's recommendation.

"We saw great people in a board room (Monday) night that have been a part of our program for many years, through their sons and daughters, students, coaches, advisors and our teachers," he said. "We have continued to redefine what it means when we say 'It's a great day to be a Cardinal.'"

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