October 13, 2014-On staring into the abyss

The following are my thoughts on the recently announced tentative agreement on a contract between the Hinsdale High School Teacher’s Association and the District 86 Board of Education (full disclosure: I am a member of the teacher’s union and also a district 86 resident).  I have tried to avoid discussion of the particulars of the negotiations and to instead focus solely on what the tentative agreement means to our Cross Country team.  

This past Thursday night, around 9:30, I was working on my most recent blog (about our meet against LT and Glenbard West) when I received a phone call from Coach Westhphal informing me that a tentative agreement had been reached which would resolve the protracted and contentious contract negotiations between the Hinsdale High School Teachers’ Association and the District 86 Board of Education.  Moments later I received a voicemail from Coach Kupres and a text message from our union leaders confirming this news.  I exchanged looks with my wife, and then we both let out a ‘whoop’ and high fived, thousands of pounds of metaphorical weight slipping off our shoulders.

For the past month, I had carried around the burden of uncertainty.  As September turned to October and the contract talks stalled, the reality of a strike loomed ever greater.  The ongoing negotiations became the dominant topic of conversation around the lunch table in the history department office and around the dinner table at home.  We did not bring up the issue at any of our cross country team meetings, but it hung in the room unspoken, the single greatest threat to our dreams of defending last year’s state title.

A coach likes to control as many external factors as he/she can.  What was most stressful about the contract negotiations was the feeling that there was nothing I could do to impact the situation.  Of course I wanted the contract resolved in a way that my colleagues and I believed fair, but I also felt an intense obligation to protect the opportunity for our team members to compete at the conference meet and in the state series.

Here was my biggest fear: the strike would start before conference and not be resolved by regionals.  The school would fail to be able to provide enough substitutes and would close down.  All athletic teams would be required to cease competition.  The season would end prematurely, and our athletes would be robbed of the chance to show how much they have improved over the course of the season.  The promise we make that “hard work pays off” would be proved false.  Josh Feldman would not get the chance to run at state.  Matt McBrien would not get to defend his state title.  Alex Domiano and Griffin Gartner would not get to experience running top 7 for a state championship team.  Max Maydanchik, Sean O’Flaherty, Nick Tandle, Matt Tobia, Austin Kleber, Alex Lambert, Joe Griffin, and Stefan Rosas would not get the chance to earn JV all-conference.  Every guy on our team would be denied the chance to run in their final and most important meet of the season.  I am not being hyperbolic to say the feeling for me, and for many of our athletes, would be akin to how America’s Olympic qualifiers must have felt in 1980 when Jimmy Carter announced we would be boycotting the Moscow games.

The worst did not happen.  The community, and especially the athletes and parents on OUR team, rose up in defense of our shared mission.  While I am not naïve enough to think that parents and educators necessarily have the exact same interests, I do believe that the coaches and parents of HCXC were truly united in sending the message to our union and the BOE that our boys (and, absolutely, the girl’s team, too) deserved the opportunity to see the season to its conclusion.

Last Monday’s school board meeting was unlike any event I’ve ever witnessed in my decade of teaching and coaching at Hinsdale Central.  Over 1000 people crammed into the school cafeteria to make sure their voices were heard as the Board of Education considered how to respond to the teacher’s latest proposal.  No other athletic team had a presence quite like the HCXC family.  45 people spoke during Audience communication, and fully 8 of them (Mr. McBrien, Ms. Kleber, Mr. Kleber, Mr. Feldman, Mr. Kennedy, Ms. Rens-Domiano, and our own Ryan Doorhy) spoke, along with other concerns, on behalf our team.  Many other parents of current runners, alumni, and parents of alumni were present, as well, and had helped push for resolution by writing letters and contacting others.  About 25 members of our team were in attendance, looking sharp in their red and black track jackets.  These boys, along with athletes of other teams, served as a visual reminder to all present of what was at stake.  They had a single evening where their usual homework assignments were put aside as they received an authentic lesson in citizenship and democracy.

Evidently, the message was received.  Within three days, a tentative deal was reached.  While the agreement must still be ratified by both the BOE and HHSTA, a new calm has settled upon our school and our town.  When I posted on twitter that the contract negotiations appeared to be resolved, the first ‘favorite’ came from Sandburg CC.  Their team has trained incredibly hard to take a shot at winning the state title this season, and know it would not mean as much without us there.  We are now free to focus on preparing for that title fight.  How sweet it is!

One thought on “October 13, 2014-On staring into the abyss

  1. Several of my fellow Hinsdale Central “empty nester” friends were puzzled by my intense following (updated often for me by Mrs. McBrien) of the negotiations between the board and teachers. When I badgered them to email the board, some asked “Why are you so nervous about this, you don’t have any kids there anymore?” I then admitted my interest was solely to make sure the cross country team would have a chance to go to state!!! Onward and upward we go, as you would say. Can’t wait.


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