Superintendent suspends 7 West Valley coaches for 2 years; parents students give testimony

The school board voted unanimously to uphold Gaborik’s decision. Several members of the community gave testimony at the meeting, including current players of the Wolfpack football program, and coaches who ultimately suspended. (Carly Sjordal/KTVF)
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The latest development in the West Valley football controversy unfolded at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District board meeting Thursday night. Superintendent Karen Gaborik announced the two-year suspensions of the seven assistant coaches who were present at the preseason football training incident at the UAF Pool that left three students hospitalized.

The school board voted unanimously to uphold Gaborik’s decision.

Several members of the community gave testimony at the meeting, including current players of the Wolfpack football program, and coaches who were ultimately suspended.

“By this, you’re telling me I should not have risked and not gone to the pool, I’d still be able to coach today.” said Kyle Allison, who was among the seven assistant coaches barred for two years. “I’m being punished for something that someone else did that I have never done as a coach. Because I always follow protocol.”

Former West Valley Head Coach Roy Hessner, who was instructing the preseason workout, resigned July 27.

“It’s the gravity of the situation.” said Karen Gaborik “I was given an update last week, I’m reviewing that information so the board also received information tonight. They now have a full scope of what occurred and the information that’s been gathered.”

Andy Jefferson is the only assistant coach who was on staff at the time of the incident that is able to return to the program. Jefferson was not at the UAF Patty Pool on July 26 when three students nearly drowned during the training exercise.

“You’ve heard the stories, these men risked their lives to save somebody else’s kid,” said Jefferson. “They weren’t thinking about the great jobs they all have. They risked their lives so somebody else can see their kid again.”

Coming to light through testimony at the school board meeting, this wasn’t the first time Hessner had run this specific exercise for a West Valley athletic program. According to a statement from a West Valley softball player, the team performed the same training exercise on March 30, 2019.

‘A few girls couldn’t swim so it really [was] just torture’ a quote from the West Valley softball player, that was revealed at the meeting, stated. “It took us about six or seven tries to get it and if anyone would touch the sides we would have to start completely over. One of us ended up throwing up towards the end.”

Two other girls almost drowned so they refused to get back in the water and sat out as well,” said the softball player.

In an email sent to the softball team by head coach Bryan Mitchell, the exercise was labeled a ‘mandatory practice’. The workout for the football team was also classified as mandatory, although it was prior to the official season beginning. Under Alaska School Activities Association rules, “the school is prohibited from requiring any athlete to participate in an out-of-season sport, training program, or travel team as a condition of selection for the in-season team.”

Many of the testimonies asked why the West Valley high school administration was not being looked at by the school board. Karen Gaborik said that they took a wide approach and looked at not just the coaches but the administration, as well.

“So we’ve looked at the entire scope of it.” said Gaborik.

The next step in the process is that Gaborik will be reviewing all pre-season activities policy. Those powers were given to her by the school board.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department is still investigating the incident.

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