Was coach fired for political views?

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Ted Sullivan
July 29, 2008
— The man who claims he was fired from coaching football because he helped with a write-in campaign against two incumbent Elkhorn School Board members wants the district administrator to resign.

Steve Hensel, a volunteer seventh-grade football coach for nine years, Monday night asked District Administrator Greg Wescott to resign during the public comment portion of the school board meeting. Hensel said he believes the administrator orchestrated his firing without explanation.

“It is my belief that this administration has repeatedly lied to the board and the community regarding this decision,” Hensel said. “I ask the board to evaluate its staff and students on performance, not on political convictions … I implore this administration to tell the truth.

“This administration, specifically you Mr. Wescott, may have grown complacent, even arrogant if you have gone to making decisions about personnel based on political convictions,” Hensel said.

Hensel said before the board meeting that he was fired because he helped Paul Martel run a write-in campaign against incumbent board members Edward Carlson and Dave Ketchpaw during the spring elections.

He said he sent an e-mail to about 200 people asking them to vote for Martel, saying district officials were soft on discipline and it was time for a change. Martel lost the election.

On July 16, Hensel was told by the athletic director via voicemail that he would not be renewed this year as the football coach.

The athletic director, Dean Wilson, said in the voicemail that “I got word from Wescott—and this is based on the Martel letter and the Carlson thing—that he would not allow me to allow you to coach … It’s a loyalty thing and all of this stuff,” according to the voicemail’s transcript posted on the Web site for Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.

In response, the district administrator said accusations that Hensel was pushed out because he helped run a write-in campaign against two incumbent school board members are false. Wescott said he never directed a firing or talked with school board members about it.

But he added that he did tell the athletic director that he wouldn’t support Hensel’s appointment as football coach. He said it was because of Hensley’s “judgment,” but he declined to comment further because it’s a personnel matter.

In an interview before the board meeting, Wescott said other volunteers, coaches and staff members have been involved in write-in campaigns. He said the district would never make a staffing decision based on politics.

Other people spoke out in support of Hensel during the public comment portion meeting.

Scott Dittner, Elkhorn, said the district violated Hensel’s rights and is trying to cover it up.

“As a citizen of this community, I am embarrassed,” he said.

Doug Howland, Elkhorn, said the board is more worried about politics than students. He said he would vote for the incumbents’ opponents during the next election.

Jeremy Reeves, Elkhorn, said other people didn’t attend the meeting because they’re afraid to speak out in a small community for fear of retaliation.

Todd Mortensen, Elkhorn, asked the board to tell the truth about why Hensel can’t coach.

“Tell us just exactly how it’s in our best interest to be eliminating one of our best volunteers for 10 years without a complaint,” he said.

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