No action taken by North Tama school board on 8-Player football

March 2023 bond referendum, petition discussed

North Tama school board member Rod Zobel (right) takes the oath of office for 2022-2023 board president from board secretary/treasurer Terrill Karr (left) during the board’s annual organizational meeting held in the Jr. High Commons on Nov. 21. Also sworn in during the meeting was board vice president Cheryl Popelka. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID HILL

It’s beginning to look a lot like the Redhawks will not be moving to 8-Player varsity football for the immediate future.

During both the annual meeting of the North Tama Board of Education and the regular monthly meeting — held back to back on Monday, Nov. 21 — the topic of possibly moving Redhawk football from 11-Player (Class A) to 8-Player was addressed by members of the public, past Redhawk football head coach Tom McDermott, and the school board members themselves.

The annual meeting began with McDermott – who helmed the Redhawk football team for a combined 17 years between 1973 and 2019 before retiring – presenting information about 8-Player football to the board during the ‘Spotlight on Education’ segment. McDermott’s presentation covered much of the same content he preseted during a Nov. 9 community meeting held in the North Tama cafeteria which the Telegraph previously reported on.

During his presentation, McDermott explained to the board he had broached the topic of moving to 8-Player with Wurth following the 2022-23 season for several reasons including decreasing BEDS enrollment, shrinking squad size, the changing landscape of 11-Player/Class A football, and the health and safety of the players.

McDermott said he believes the board needs to make one of three decisions – stay at 11-Player, move varsity to 8-Player this year for next season, or commit to a two to four-year transition.

“We are now officially the smallest [11-Player] school in the state of Iowa,” McDermott said at one point, a designation that was made official following the Nov. 9 meeting of the Belle Plaine school board.

Previously, Belle Plaine was the smallest school in Class A but during the district’s Nov. 9 meeting, unanimous action was taken to move Plainsmen football from Class A to 8-Player for the 2023-2024 school year due to “current team numbers,” according to minutes from the meeting.

At one point during McDermott’s presentation, Wurth presented the findings of a survey he had recently conducted among Redhawk football players in grades 7th through 12th. Wurth asked the players – through an electronic, anonymous survey – to answer the question, “How do you want to see Redhawk football move forward?”

Of the 32 responses Wurth received, 14 indicated they would ‘strongly prefer’ staying 11-Player; one indicated they would ‘strongly prefer’ moving to 8- Player; six indicated they would ‘prefer’ 11-Player; eight indicated they would ‘prefer’ 8-Player; two indicated they had no preference; one typed the response, “I would rather do 11 man but I think we should do 8 man.”

Public discussion

During the regular board meeting that followed the organizational meeting, six members of the public – both in-person and via written comments – provided their perspective on the possibility of moving to 8-Player.

Football coach, Redhawk alum, and parent Nathan Upah, North Tama coach, teacher, and parent Matt Cibula, Redhawk football player Ryan Hosek (a junior), and North Tama parent Anita Dostal each provided public comments to the board. North Tama coach and parent Luke Dvorak and North Tama parent Ashley Dvorak submitted their comments by email which Superintendent David Hill read aloud.

While Upah, Dostal, and the Dvoraks all leaned in favor or strongly in favor of moving to 8-Player for next season – many citing the low numbers of youth and junior high football players coming up through the ranks and the issues of both safety of the players and game cancellations – Cibula felt the move would be better executed over the next several years in order to allow next season’s junior and senior football players the opportunity to finish out their careers at 11-Player.

Hosek spoke in favor of remaining at 11-Player, stating that despite being one of the smallest schools in Class A, North Tama’s squad size (30) is still bigger than many of the other 11-Player teams.

Board discussion

Over the course of the board’s discussion – which immediately followed public comment – it became clear that most board members were leaning toward keeping varsity in Class A for the foreseeable future while directing athletic director Wurth to begin the process of moving junior varsity to 8-Player next season.

“I still believe we are an 11-man football team,” board president Rod Zobel – who played high school football for Benton Community – said.

Board member David Calderwood, a Redhawk football alum, indicated he felt a transition year – a “blend” of 8-Player for junior varsity and staying at Class A for varsity – might be best.

Board members repeatedly asked Coach Wurth for his thoughts as well as what the numbers were coming down the line. Wurth said while the team would be graduating seven players this year, it would potentially be bringing up nine new players.

Board member Haley Blaine who is the mother of a Redhawk youth football player and the aunt of starting quarterback Kolt Knaack, reiterated much of what Anita Dostal said during the public comments segment – numbers coming up the ranks are small. Blaine said while she understands students, in general, have gone through a lot of change and upheaval the last several years due to the pandemic, it’s “always going to be someone’s senior year” when a change is made.

Board member David Boldt asked Supt. Hill how a transition would take place if junior varsity begins the transition while keeping varsity in Class A to which Hill responded that adaptations to the fields – portable goal posts, for example – were possible.

Board member Doug Dvorak admitted he had been “sold” on the move to 8-Player following McDermott’s presentation earlier in the month at the community meeting, but after talking to parents, grandparents, and students he was now “wavering” a bit.

“I know I’m 20 miles out in the sticks – I don’t hear all the talk of the town,” Dvorak said to Wurth. “Can we make [11-Player] work for two more years and bring junior high into the process with 8-Man?” Wurth indicated he felt that was definitely a possibility.

When asked by Dvorak what his thoughts were on the idea of switching to 8-Player, Wurth said he wanted to keep his opinion out of the discussion, replying, in part: “This decision is bigger than one person’s opinion, I didn’t come here for just 11-man football. … I came for the small school feel and opportunity to be a head coach.”

Board member Val Bradley stated she was not convinced about making the switch yet, citing the survey Wurth had conducted of his players. She asked Wurth if transitioning junior varsity to 8-Player would require more coaches to which Wurth replied that another paid coach would be helpful in that scenario.

The decision was made by the board to take no action on the matter that night. President Zobel said he would contact all board members the first week in December to determine if a special meeting before the Dec. 15 deadline was necessary to move varsity to 8-Player.

Supt. Hill reiterated it would be best practice by the board to provide general direction to Wurth if they desired a blend/transition to 8-Player at the junior varsity level next season.

Bond referendum update

Later in the regular meeting, Supt. Hill provided the board with an update on the facilities improvement bond referendum planned for March of 2023. Hill presented the petition that must be signed by at least 110 eligible voters in the North Tama district in order for a special election to take place.

The petition states, “We, the undersigned, are eligible electors, reside within the School District and petition the Board of Directors of the School District to call a special election to submit to the voters of the School District the following proposition the purpose of which cannot be accomplished within the limit of one and one-quarter percent of the assessed value of the taxable property within the School District.”

The proposition states: “Shall the Board of Directors of North Tama County Community School District … be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $14,250,000 to be used together with sales tax bond proceeds to provide funds to build, furnish, and equip a new high school addition, including related remodeling and improvements; to remodel, repair, furnish, and equip the existing educational facilities; and to improve the site?”

The $14.25 million constitutes phase one of the district’s planned facility upgrades.

In order to replace the 1917 building which mostly houses the high school, a new, two-story 18,000 sq. foot high school addition would be built during phase one on land directly adjacent to the campus along US 63 – land which currently has a rental home occupying part of it and would be demolished.

The addition would be primarily classrooms and collaborative spaces and would allow the district to vacate the 1917 core building during phase two.

Phase one would also include critical upgrades to the remainder of the district’s buildings including secure entry upgrades, HVAC and electrical upgrades, an athletic area reconfiguration to provide accessible routes around the gym, a weight room expansion, and paving of the existing parking lot.

Phase two would take place two to four years after the initial bond referendum.

The petition to call for a special election must be filed with the Tama County Auditor’s Office no later than January 20. The date of the special election would be March 7, 2023.

In a recent Facebook post regarding the planned bond referendum, the district wrote, “The school district has been a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars and has looked for ways to reduce the impact on taxpayers as we maintain our facilities. However, we are at a point at which we cannot delay addressing our facility needs any longer.”

A website has been set up to answer frequently asked questions about the bond referendum: “https://www.northtamaplanning.org”>https://www.northtamaplanning.org