By Krystle S. Morey
After a months-long process of back-and-forth appointments, rescinded hires and resignations, Mario Torres has been named the varsity football coach for the fall 2016 season.
By a 6-1 vote, the Granville Board of Education voted – for the second time – to appoint Torres. The first hire, on June 13, was deemed “not a legal appointment” after a board policy was violated because the superintendent did not recommend Torres for the position.
The board of education hosted a special meeting Tuesday to settle the months-long debate over who should coach the district’s varsity team. Board members and school administrators declined to disclose who called the meeting. Superintendent Mark Bessen said, “We were directed to call a meeting once a candidate was brought forward, so that’s what we did.”
Torres wasn’t originally on Tuesday’s meeting agenda – there were two other candidates that were suggested by Athletic Director Eileen Troy and Principal Camille Harrelson.
After a two-and-a-half-hour executive session, the board emerged from behind closed doors to vote. First, the board unanimously voted to amend the agenda, removing Terry Gorton and Brian Bowe, who were up for appointment as varsity head football co-coaches.
Bessen then formally recommended Torres be named head varsity football coach.
He read from a note typed on his phone, “At the request of the board of education, I am recommending that Mario Torres be appointed as varsity football coach for the 2016 football season only.”
Board member Carrie O’Brien was the only board member to vote against Torres’ appointment.
“We are charged with doing what we think is best for the community. Based on the information we were given and looking at the candidates, I did what I thought was best for the community,” O’Brien said after the meeting.
Board members Jo-Lynne Bartholomew and Greg Bourn were absent from the meeting. The school district’s attorney, Jay Girvin, of Girvin & Ferlazzo, PC in Albany, attended.
“Policies, laws and contracts have been violated in the past,” Bessen said as to why Girvin was there.
“We wanted to make sure we did it right this time,” Bessen said.
Torres, the district’s football coach for the last decade, will earn a $4,340.30 stipend for the season.
Before the meeting, nearly 50 parents, football players and concerned community members staged a protest outside the high school. Most were wearing blue and gold “Football is family” t-shirts. Some held signs and chanted statements including, “Protect this family,” “Administration = bullies,” “We don’t need new coaches, we need new leadership,” “Fire Bessen/Troy,” and “Why?”
Nekia Torres, Mario Torres’ wife and former board member, attended the protest, holding a hot pink-colored sign that read, “Impeach Bessen.”
“I am overwhelmed by the amount of community support,” she said. She and her husband did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Jason Rathbun, a Granville football supporter, attended the protest “for one reason … to help Mario and his family get some answers.”
“When the family hurts, everybody comes out,” he said. “The Torreses do a lot for the kids, both on and off the field.”
Rathbun, who has been a volunteer assistant for the football program for the past six seasons, said if Torres had not been reappointed, his “football career would be done.”
This football fiasco has drummed on for nearly two months.
Pam Tatko summed up the feelings of many players, board members and community members best before the meeting when she said, “Everybody wants it to be over.”
Tatko, a former member of the Granville Board of Education, has joined with football players, parents and concerned community members in the hullabaloo of the appointment of a varsity high school football coach, attending board meetings, calling administrators and more.
“Maybe having a sea of blue and gold in the audience will allow the board members to fully envision the Horde family,” Pam Tatko said prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
The original idea was to have “Team Torres” shirts made, but Torres caught wind of the idea and asked that the effort not be focused on him and that it be made about the players.
“He tells the boys all of the time, ‘we are a family,’” Tatko said. “…so that’s where the ‘Football is family’ comes from.”
The team sold t-shirts via word of mouth and the Friends of Granville Football Facebook group.
The group was established in July 2015 to help the players, coaches and parents coordinate rides to games, snacks for players, uniform cleaning collaboration and more, but recently its news feed has been flooded with pro-Mario testimonials, school board agendas and news coverage of the ongoing story about Torres’ pursuit to retain his position as head coach.
The group has nearly 360 members. Nekia Torres and assistant football coach Aaron Torres, Mario’s brother, are both admins of the site.
Tatko has no children left in the school district – her youngest graduated in 2011. That same year she ended her 15-year stint on the Granville Board of Education.
Tatko said, as a board member from 1995 to 2011, she has “never seen anything this big or drawn out.”
“I think it’s very sad that something like this has come to Granville and that it’s affecting the district and the community,” she said. “The more this drama goes on, the more people are getting frustrated.”
Other towns are talking about Granville and the rollercoaster of Torres’ reappointment, Tatko said. “It’s an embarrassment that this is our town’s reputation right now,” she added.
“It is very unfortunate that this situation has drawn such negative attention to the district,” said School Board President Audrey Hicks. “While the selection of a football coach only affects a small percentage of kids for a small percentage of the year, every kid’s high school experience is important and the influence of a coach often extends beyond the season.”
Added Hicks, “I feel the way in which the district has treated a long-time employee is disrespectful and unacceptable. Those of us on the board who supported Mario did not approve of the process. We also felt that the best interest of the kids was not being well served this close to the beginning of the season.”
Parent Pam Williams stormed out of the board’s July 11 meeting, exclaiming that she would “be proud to take her son to a different school to play football.” Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Williams had gathered the necessary paperwork from the Fair Haven School District to begin the process of transferring her son.
Williams said Tuesday that she was leaving the decision up to her son, Morgan, who is set to play his senior year of varsity football this fall.
“It’ll be his choice,” she said.
Morgan said transferring was something that he was seriously considering, had Torres not been reappointed.
“Coach M (Torres), he is our coach. He is like a father to me. He is a father to all of us,” he said. “It definitely would be different without him.”
The board also voted Tuesday to appoint Terry Gorton as a volunteer assistant football coach.
Gorton played for the Glens Falls Greenjackets for almost 15 years. He was inducted into the American Football Association’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, according to archives.
Assistant Varsity Football Coach Aaron Torres, Mario Torres’ brother, who was appointed May 31, said he doesn’t know Groton, but is excited to work with him.
“Football is a sport where, the more people that are around, the better,” Torres said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I am looking forward to meeting him, hearing what he has to say, listening to his experiences and moving forward.”
On Aug. 11, there is a mandatory meeting for all fall athletes, parents and coaches. The team’s first official practice is Aug. 15 on the practice field next to the football field.