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01-23-2020 Hartford Football hires next leader of the “Tribe”; Substitute school board in Watervlie

DIDN’T GET THE MEMO… Out of state utility workers risk an unadvisable shortcut when the Van Buren County Road Commission closed 70th Street (County Line Road) due to flooding at the intersection of Dwight Boyer Road Tuesday, Jan. 14, just north of the Paw Paw River bridge. The river has stayed within its banks at this point, but readers are cautioned NOT to proceed through flood waters. During the flooding in 2018 Tri-City Record ran a photo of a small car that became disabled and floated sideways at this very spot! (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

CONTROVERSIAL… calls! Isaiah Yazel went 3-1 and won a third place medal in the 160-pound class. His day started with a 15-0 technical fall win and then he lost 5-3 in overtime on a couple controversial calls. After that he won two more matches with pins at 1:13 and 2:31. Pictured is Isaiah waiting for the referee to call the pin in his last match against Marcellus wrestler Chadlee Nestell. (TCR photo by John Oliphant)

Hartford Football hires next leader of the “Tribe”

By Jerrod Birmele Late last week, the Hartford Athletic Department was permeating with big news. The December 12, 2019 Hartford Press Box reported that Brad Manning had stepped down as the head coach of the Hartford Indian football team. The position had been open since then, but that all changed on Thursday, Jan. 16, when Athletic Director Nick Blackmer announced the hiring of Tom Matthews.

Matthews’ hiring was the culmination of an extensive search process by the Athletic Department. A committee was convened to conduct interviews of all of the top applicants. The committee was unanimous in their decision that Matthews was the right person for the position. In a press release, Blackmer stated, “The Athletic Department is excited to welcome Coach Matthews to the Hartford family. His work ethic, demeanor, and football knowledge will be a valuable asset to our student-athletes.” Coach Matthews joins the Indians fresh off of a two-year stint at Benton Harbor, where he led the Tigers to a 7-10 record overall, including a 4-5 mark last fall. He began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant at Otsego and has coached football, basketball and tennis for the past 35 years. He has been a head varsity football coach for eleven of those years, having had previous coaching stints in Otsego, Allegan and Gobles prior to his most recent stop in Benton Harbor. Coach Matthews has been married to his wife, Jerrie, for 34 years, and has four grown children and eight grandchildren. In his remarks in the press release, Coach Matthews said, “Coaching young men and developing a football program is a responsibility that will not be taken lightly. The principles and values that I will instill in young men are endless and very important. We will develop the PRIDE…WORK…WIN…ALL IN philosophy that will help our players compete and succeed on the field and in life.” Coach Matthews also looks forward to developing and maintaining the Hartford Indian football program, adding, “We will continue the great traditions of Hartford Football and strive for SW10 Conference Championships, make the playoffs, and compete for State Championships.” The Hartford Press Box welcomes Coach Matthews and his family to our community!

ALL FOR THE KIDS… Panther Pride Award winners were announced at the last Watervliet School Board meeting. The January award was given to the Watervliet Class of 2021 advisors, Wendy Stainbrook and Donald Higginbottom. Members of the Class of 2021 made the nomination. The two are shown here (center) with the Watervliet School Board and Superintendent Ric Seager.

Substitute school board in Watervliet approves student wishes; concerns voiced over treatment of special ed. students

By Annette Christie Described as one of the favorite board meetings of all year, School Board Appreciation was held at the Watervliet School Board meeting on Monday night, Jan. 13. In fact, the elementary students took the opportunity to become the “substitute school board” and approve some changes to their education experience as requested by their fellow students. Students from South Elementary entertained with the “Guess your Board Member” and then proceeded to take the seats of the board members. Group by group, each grade level approached with their wishes for consideration by the student led board. At the conclusion of the student proposals, the student school board approved bringing pets to school, setting at any table in the cafeteria with friends, five recesses a day, every day was pajama day, and cake and candy for breakfast. The actual school board was honored by each school in the district as well as from administration. Over and over again they were thanked for work, support, and their dedication, by the North Elementary School Student Council, the Middle School Student Council, students in the WAY Program, and the High School Student Council President. Upon presenting a certificate, Superintendent Ric Seager said this was an opportunity for the community to give thanks for those who serve. “We hear all the time about what’s going on nationally, on TV and radio, politically here and there, but what really matters in government is what happens in your community, and there is not a better example of this than in the local school board and the work they do.”

Organizational business Prior to the regular meeting, the organizational meeting was held. The officers remain the same and meetings will continue to be held on the second Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. There was some discussion about scheduling committee meetings on a regular basis; however, it will be up to the committee chairs to schedule those if they see the need. In the absence of a regularly scheduled time and day, committee meetings will be called as needed.

Panther Pride awardees recognized The Panther Pride Award was given to the Watervliet Class of 2021 advisors, Wendy Stainbrook and Donald Higginbottom. The nomination letter read as follows: “The Watervliet Class of 2021 advisors do more for we kids then what is asked. For two years they have been committed to highway clean up in order to help us earn community service hours. If we show up and help, we earn money to help buy our cap and gowns for graduation. They support us in sports and other activities by being there for us. They have had many obstacles but stick together and overcome them. They whole class loves them and it shows how much they love us and want us to succeed.” The nomination was made by Zack Stainbrook and seconded by many others who have been touched and helped by the recipients. The Panther Pride Individual and Group Award program was developed to recognize businesses, service groups, community members, parents, faculty, staff and students who have provided exemplary leadership and service. Recipients of the Panther Pride Award are recognized at the regularly scheduled monthly school board meetings. There is no limit on the number of times that an individual or group can be nominated and/or receive the award. Nominations for this award can be submitted by anyone. The form is available on the school website.

Parent concerns raised During the public participation portion of the meeting, a spokesperson for the parents of four students raised concerns to the school board about the special education program in the district. Austin Brigham said that he told the board that they would like to work with the district for a solution on challenges that he described as contributing to suspensions for those students. He said that they would like to have more behavior resources available all day at the school full time; trauma training for the staff to better educate them on how to deal with students that may have had trauma in their lives; additional professional development; cameras at the school, specifically in the common areas, classrooms and playgrounds; a better backup plan for when staff are sick or unable to be with the students; and a self-contained room. Brigham said that Board President Bill Spaulding did ask some questions of him and recommended that he continue to work with the South Elementary Principal and the Superintendent. After the meeting, Brigham said that the school is not dealing with behavior issues of their students and that they are understaffed in the special education area. He said the school was doing the best they could with the resources that they have, however, he would like to see more provided for special education students. While the school does have behavior specialists, he said that they do not work with special education students, and suggested that maybe one needs to be specifically assigned to that area. Brigham said that it had been suggested to some of the parents that perhaps the students should be moved to alternative schools that could better accommodate their needs, however, when you live in the district and the kids have other siblings in the district, that answer shouldn’t be a consideration. He did note that the district is doing some great things to help all students, however, more needed to be done.

Close Watervliet Commission vote ends in a “No” vote for Freshwater Church

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet City Commission held a special meeting on Thursday, January 16, 2020 to render a decision on a special land use permit that was being sought by Freshwater Community Church. The permit would have allowed the church to operate a church and community center at 115 N. Main St. in the City of Watervliet.

The decision was put on hold earlier this month when the City Commission was faced with accepting the recommendation of their Planning Commission to deny the permit or going ahead with its approval. That delay was to give them time to obtain a legal opinion from their attorney.

Prior to the vote, the Commission did take public comments. However, Mayor Dave Brinker asked those in the audience that if they had spoken before and had nothing new to add, it was preferred that they did not repeat any earlier comments. The City Commission did allow one last appeal from Pastor Justin VanFerrari, who addressed what they saw as the Commission’s four major concerns. Attorney Tat Parrish also spoke during public comments. His office is located right across the street from where the church would be if the permit was approved.

“I looked at this with a little bemusement, why would anyone be against this?” Parrish asked.  “I’d like to see that building occupied, kept up, and renovated.  I’ve been in my building for 28 years and I have never had a parking problem.” Parrish continued, “Having a parking problem may not be a bad problem to have. People could benefit from a little increased foot traffic.” Parrish questioned whether the city could discriminate against a church because they may not pay taxes (non-profit) and concluded with, “I see only a benefit from this.”

Brinker explained what the vote meant and confirmed that each of the City Commissioners received the legal opinion.

The motion was put on the table and some commissioners explained the way they would vote. Commissioner Jennifer Helms said she planned to vote no because the Planning Commissioner spent a lot of time on this and their recommendation was that the City Commission would deny the permit application. She also referred to the letter from their attorney which recommended a denial of the special land use permit as well.  Commissioner Bill Whitney commented that having a church downtown would give the community a pulse on Sunday and suggested that they have already established past practice by setting aside their ordinance with the parking requirements for the Dollar Tree in downtown.  Commissioner Michael Bumstead said that the fact that they want to go into that building is a plus for the city. “I would hate to see that not be used,” Bumstead said.

In a roll call vote the following occurred: Duane Cobb, no; Deah Muth, yes; Helms, no; Strunk, no; Bumstead, yes; and Whitney yes. The final tiebreaker was broken when Brinker provided last no vote.

Freshwater Community Church started in Coloma in 2010. Over the past nine years they have been meeting in the Coloma Middle School building. They were seeking to move into the property at 115 N. Main St. and to convert it into a community center and church where their congregation meets on Sundays.  They currently have about 75 adults and 25 kids in their congregation and the building would allow for anticipated growth. The church expected to make approximately $170,000 in renovations and improvements that would be done in phases. The subject building is located just down the block from a city parking lot with approximately 35 parking spots that are underutilized.

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