By BRETT MARSHALL
LAKIN — Two weeks after he was fired as the head football coach at Lakin High School, Ken Waechter was re-hired Thursday night for the same position when the USD 215 Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve the supplemental contract of Waechter for the 2010-2011 school year.
The reverse vote came at the end of a special meeting of the board that was held in the high school auditorium. Around 125 to 150 people attended, most of whom to offer their public support for Waechter, who has spent 35 years teaching and coaching in USD 215. The last five years, Waechter has been the head football coach, compiling a 30-19 record and leading the Broncs to the Class 3A playoffs four times.
"I'm happy with the way the process worked tonight," said Board President Roger Calkins, one of two board members who voted on May 20 to retain Waechter. "Anytime you reverse a decision, it demonstrates that you should have done it right the first time. Some things need to be reversed, and I think our board learned a lesson in this that we are a policy-making group and not micro-managers. We have a lot of good people on our staff, and we need to listen to them."
At the May 20 meeting, the members who cast a no vote to retain Waechter included Mike Puckett, Gary Morgan, Stewart Stabel, Doug Hilbig and Ralph Goodnight.
Stabel, one of the original no votes on May 20, had little to say in response to questions about the Thursday night vote.
"The vote is what it is," Stabel said earlier today in a telephone interview. "I can't really talk about it, it's personnel and that's about all."
For Waechter, 58, the meeting provided relief after he went into a closed session at 7:20 p.m. with the board for 10 minutes along with Superintendent Randy Steinle, High School Principal Ron Overeem and Athletic Director Kim Lohman.
"It was good to see all of the support from people who stand up for you," Waechter said. "It doesn't happen very often, and I also appreciate the fact that the board allowed me to represent myself tonight, reconsider their decision and give me another chance."
Mark McClain, who had voted in support of Waechter at the May 20 meeting, also said he was pleased with the outcome of the special meeting.
"Sometimes you don't realize how you've backed yourself into a corner," McClain said of the vote on May 20. "We need to do a better job of consulting with our administrators and always remember what is in the best interest of the district. I'm proud of the process that we had tonight, and it allows us to go forward."
McClain said this had been a learning process for every board member.
"None of us are perfect, and I think tonight the democratic process was in motion," McClain said. "I thought the patrons were outstanding in how they represented themselves in their comments. I thought coach Waechter showed the outstanding qualities that he has demonstrated for many years."
The board provided a public forum for several attendees to speak on behalf of Waechter, a life-long resident of Lakin and graduate of Lakin High School.
One person to address the board was Matt Shultz, a middle school assistant football coach, assistant high school wrestling coach and assistant high school golf coach.
"If the board is doing what is best for all students, then it should be making respectful and considerate decisions," Shultz said. "I've looked for a mission statement for the board but I don't find one, and I think there should be one developed so everyone knows what they want to accomplish."
Shultz said he found many suggestions from the Internet site of the Kansas Association of School Boards, where it explains the role and responsibility of school boards across Kansas.
Blaine White, an assistant high school coach, said he felt Waechter had his priorities in order when working with the players on the team.
"He stresses academics before playing time, and he invests a lot of time in the kids," White said. "I believe he's here for lessons in life, and Kenny does this quite often. He's the fairest person I've coached with in 20 years."
Bob Byrne, who has sons in the school district, said he had watched around 80 percent of the team's practices over the past two seasons.
"He's a fair man," Byrne said of Waechter. "He's honest, and he lets his assistants do their coaching. If there is ever a voice raised (by a coach) it is for instruction, but nobody is berated."
At 7 p.m., the board went into closed session with no other participants. After a brief return to the public portion, the board again went into closed session with Overeem and then another brief appearance at the public portion before going into closed session one final time with the school's administrators and Waechter.
When the board returned to the auditorium, board member Ralph Goodnight publicly apologized for his vote two weeks previous.
"I wish we had more participation and perhaps we wouldn't be here in this position," Goodnight said. "I think I failed the system, and I apologize."
Goodnight then made the motion to re-consider the supplemental contract of Waechter as presented and the board — Calkins, McClain, Mike Puckett, Stewart Stabel, Doug Hilbig, Gary Morgan and Goodnight — all voted its approval.
Waechter said he believes one of the areas the board wants him to address is how the team and students represent the school.
"In education today, a lot of people are disappointed in how kids act and represent themselves," Waechter said. "Here at Lakin, we want to see that improved, not only as athletes but in the classroom and in the halls.
"The parents have to become involved in the education of their children. They have to make sure their kids are doing these things the right way."
Waechter said he was sure the decision made Thursday by the board was not an easy one to end two weeks of controversy in the community.
"Maybe they felt they made the wrong decision and wanted to correct it," Waechter said. "If I made a mistake, I'd want to make it right. I'm just happy it ended this way and I've got a lot of work to do for our team and the community."