Protests in support of Coach Finney culminates with demonstration at School Board Meeting
Last week was a wild one in the halls of Okeene’s public schools. The drama wasn’t centered around the recent COVID-19 epidemic, rather, the reassignment of one of Okeene’s coaches.
On Thurs., Mar. 5, Coach Patrick Finney was notified that he would not retain his title as basketball coach next year. Finney was not being let go as a teacher, but would be reassigned, officially ending his time as the boys’ basketball coach.
Coach Finney has been the head coach of the boys’ high school and junior high basketball teams for the last two years, after assisting Coach Patrick Penner in the 2017-2018 season.
Still, word didn’t get out about the decision until early last week, and it sparked a reaction out of both the parents and students in the coming days. On Tues., more than thirty students participated in a sit-in protest in the hallways outside of Superintendent, Mike Jinkens’ office.
Each of the students ac-crued absences for the classes they missed, with attendance because of the protest fluctuating throughout the school day. The students’ peaceful demonstration caused no issues, as the group remained respectful.
“Our students showed up and protested the reassignment of Coach Finney and his basketball duties,” said Supt. Mike Jinkens. “I admire our kids. I’m glad that they feel that strongly about a cause, and for a person that they would be willing to show up and do that for. They did it peacefully and in a very responsible way. They did a great job.”
At one point, Jinkens brought in some of the leaders of the protest to let them air out their displeasure with the decision. He also explained the administration’s reasoning for the reassignment.
“This decision is purely one that we feel like is best for Okeene Schools and our basketball program moving forward,” said Jinkens. “We had two students that were chosen to come in and visit with me, and air their concerns and grievances. I told them my thoughts moving forward. It’s good to see we have well-educated students that are able to come in and handle themselves in a positive way. It was a good conversation.”
The explanation was not enough to slow the efforts of the students or change the minds of the school board and superintendent, as kids and parents continued to send letters throughout the week voicing their displeasure, and then capped it by holding another protest at last Thursday’s School Board Meeting.
45 protesters with signs of support for their coach filled the library where the meeting was held. Once again, each of the protestors acted respectfully through the meeting, as the proceedings went on as planned.
At the meeting, the board voted to approve the rehiring of all certified staff, includ-ing Finney, for next year, but didn’t change Finney’s fate as a coach.
After the meeting adjourned, Finney stood up and gave a heart-felt speech in which everyone that attended the meeting stuck around, including the administration. Finney thanked those that supported him, as well as defending his body of work and voicing his displeasure with the fact that Penner, the Athletic Director and girls’ basketball coach, was not involved in the decision-making process. He also closed with the following:
“I hope you keep in mind what is absolutely best for the students and athletes going forward,” said Finney. “Don’t make a decision to please a few, while going against the wishes of the majority.”
In two years as head basketball coach, Finney had a record of 29-26, despite being a Class B team with a schedule that included 29 games against Class 2A and A teams. A year ago, Finney and the Whippets lost to fourth-ranked Leedey with a trip to the State Tournament on the line.
Despite losing their top three scorers from that roster, as well as four of their top rebounders, Okeene still managed to make it to the final day of the Regional Round, with a return trip to Area on the line.
Like Leedey the year before, Hammon, who handed Okeene both of their playoff losses, would go on to make a run all the way to the State Tournament, losing in the semi-finals. It was also brought to attention after the meeting that basketball is the only boys’ sport that has not suffered from lack of participation over the last two years.
The protestors plans are to continue to write letters to the administration, as well as apply to get on the next school board agenda, which was not possible on such short notice last week. Hopes are that the effort can change the minds of those on the school board before Finney finds another job that will include a head coaching title.