After 11 years coaching the Durant softball program, varsity head coach Steve Hopkins has resigned. The Durant school board approved his resignation, along with that of JV coach Bob Gaunt, at the Oct. 8 meeting.
Hopkins resigned in order to take the Muscatine head coaching position and plans to add Gaunt to his staff. He’s lived in Muscatine his whole life and is a Muscatine High School grad, along with his wife and daughters. “For me it was an opportunity to come back home and coach my alma mater,” said Hopkins.
His letter to Durant activities director Matt Straube read, in part, as follows: “I am forever grateful that Durant gave me the opportunity to be a part of your school and community. Thank you for the support and opportunities that you have given me. I appreciate everything you have done for me.”
The Muscatine school board was set to approve Hopkins’ hire the same night.
Hopkins coached Durant from 2008-2018 and had much success, finishing with a record of 336-84. His Wildcats went to the state tournament five times in six years from 2012-2017, including winning a state championship in 2013.
Last season, Durant spent all year ranked No. 1 in Class 2A before being upset in Regional tournament play at home by Bellevue. Durant finished 32-3 and will be loaded with senior talent this coming season. After the upset, Hopkins said he was going to coach the Cats for one more season.
“I told the girls I’d be there one more year and had full intentions on keeping that promise,” said Hopkins. “It’s not about not wanting to coach Durant. It’s just about living and working in Muscatine. When this job came open … it was too good an opportunity to pass up. They don’t play as many night games and I’m 10 minutes from the field.”
When asked for his thoughts with regard to leaving a team with state title potential heading into next season, he said, “The last thing I’d ever want is to hurt them, but I had to think about one more year or come back home. If I had stayed, who knows when the Muscatine job would open back up. My heart was in Durant but I made a tough decision.
“(Durant) was disappointed with how 2018 ended. There is a hunger. We belonged in state last year. We were going to do all we could to get better and have a chip on our shoulder. This was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I would not be surprised to see them in (next year’s) title game. I’ll be rooting for them from a distance.
“I’m proud of the program and the success it’s been able to achieve. A lot of people had a hand in that. Assistant coaches, parents, athletic directors, the community, district and players, they all sacrificed and put in time. It’s remarkable how many people helped build the program to what it is today.”
Board discusses survey
Board members and Superintendent Joe Burnett held discussion on whether to create a community survey with regard to the recent bond referendum failure. Burnett asked the board three questions: 1. Do you want to do a survey? 2. If so, when? 3. What kind of questions do you want on it?
The board had previously approved Burnett to request bids for a Facilities Master Plan to be created. Burnett will solicit bids from three architectural firms in order to get an evaluation of district facilities. Board members agreed it should be done before finalizing a survey, due to the fact that it would provide the board with needed information prior to formulating questions.
Board president Julie Rivera said some of the questions she had suggested looking at asking included: If you voted yes, select why (with options); If you voted no, select why (with options); If another bond referendum was explored, what are the top 3-5 areas needed; If another bond referendum was explored, how soon should it happen?
Board denies school permit request
Members reviewed a letter from a district parent asking for the board to grant school permit access to a 14-year old Durant High School student. According to Iowa DOT rules, in order to attain a school permit, the student must live at least a mile from school; or the board can otherwise determine a special need exists.
According to the letter from the student’s mother, she said her son was in athletics and she was not comfortable with him walking home in the dark. She also said she had multiple sclerosis and poor night vision, making it difficult to pick him up at night after ball games and practices.
However, the student lives just 0.6 miles from school.
Initial conversation involved a couple board members leaning toward wanting to grant the request. Burnett then asked about parents with other issues, such as working second shift.
“We’d have no way not to allow any of them,” said member Russ Paustian, assuming that if the board granted the request, more would come. “We have an athlete we feel is unsafe to walk 0.6 miles home? Where do you draw the line?"
“I agree with Russ,” added Burnett. “If someone is out for sports and the board approves the request, you might get flooded with these. Is an extra-curricular activity a special request?”
Board member Barb Reasner made a motion to table the request in order to let the board give it more thought. Her motion failed to get a second.
Paustian made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by member Katy Oberlander. The request was denied on a 3-2 vote with Paustian, Oberlander and Rivera voting to deny it and Reasner and Phil Nietfeldt voting against denying it.
Staff members visit
Burnett invited food service director Tessa Dierickx and maintenance director Tom Wuestenberg to the meeting in order to be introduced to board members. Dierickx said she was starting her second school year at Durant and said the school prepares around 400 lunches per day and around 50 breakfasts in the morning.
Wuestenberg just started as the building’s maintenance director and had previously ran his own construction company for 16 years.
Teacher Robert Brown was also in attendance and spoke about taking a group of nine students to Europe on a World War II sight seeing trip. He said he’d like to plan another trip that would include touring three European cities — London, Paris and Rome — with the ability to stay three days in each location.
He wanted to plan the trip for the summer of 2020 based on the fact that it costs around $5,000 per student. Burnett said the board has to approve trips but that he could explore it more, report to high school principal Joel Diederichs, and then bring it back to the board.
Elementary/Junior High principal Rebecca Stineman said the elementary after school program had begun and had a reading focus. She also said security cameras and lights had been installed around the campus.
Diederichs said he attended an emergency planning meeting Sept. 26 and Durant was “put on a pedestal” for its emergency planning in place.
He also noted a recent fundraiser for Gage Finke, a student who had battled cancer. Finke is now cancer free after a bone marrow transplant and the adult living class helped raise $750 dollars. See more on page 1.
Fall sports are also winding down, with conference volleyball and cross country this week. The football team will host BGM, Brooklyn Friday night with district title hopes on the line.
In other action, the board:
* Approved the purchase of a 2019 Ford F250 4x4 Supercab pickup to use as a maintenance vehicle. Burnett noted it would also be fitted with a snow plow to help with snow removal in the winter. Two bids were submitted — $29,375 from Kriegers in Muscatine and $30,487 from Alpen Ford in Durant. Burnett urged the board to support the local business since the bids were close. The board approved the Alpen bid.
* Approved the resignation of Dean Schlapkohl, custodian.
* Approved the Iowa Association of School Boards convention fee of $195 as Burnett plans to attend.
* Approved board policies 804.2, 505.2 and 505.3. These are first readings. Second readings will take place in November.
* Approved monthly bills and financial statements.
* Approved a stipend of $998.49 to teacher Joey Kramer for his role as adviser of the Robotics program.
Board members Phil Nietfeldt, Barb Reasner, Julie Rivera, Russ Paustian and Katy Oberlander were present. All action taken was unanimous unless noted otherwise. The next regular meeting is Nov. 12 at 6 p.m.