The decision to hire an assistant soccer coach at DCHS has been met with some concern after word spread that the long-time unpaid assistant coach, Rhonda Merriman, may not be hired for the position that some school board members felt they were creating for her. While the 2014-15 school budget contains $5,570 in new funding for an assistant soccer coach for both the girls team and boys teams, Merriman is apparently not being considered for the job.
Many members of the DCHS girls soccer team attended the board of education's regular meeting Thursday night in support of Merriman, and one player read a prepared statement asking that Merriman remain as assistant coach now that it is a paid position.
DCHS senior and soccer team member Brooke Roller addressed the board, telling them that team members felt that Merriman is an important part of the team, and should be allowed to take the paid position.
"Our understanding is that it has been approved for us to have a paid assistant coach. Rhonda Merriman has been our unpaid assistant coach for about the last six years. Now that we have been approved to have an assistant coach, we have chosen Ms. Rhonda. We have been informed that it cannot be allowed for her to take that position. It has been said that she is not fit to work with kids. She is a guidance counselor at DCHS and a youth pastor at her church, and has coached soccer for many years."
She said Merriman is more than a coach to the girl's team, and the members often go to her with problems that they not be comfortable sharing with a male coach.
"I have had a rough few months, and without her help I could have made some really bad decisions," Roller continued. "She isn't just a coach to many of us on the team. We love having her on the field with us. We are all very close to her. We also understand that perhaps it is the configuring of how to pay her because she is paid differently than most teachers. We have personally hired a lawyer to do that math for the board. In addition to that our current head coach, Dylan Kleparek has researched and discovered that multiple other high schools in the state of Tennessee have assistant coaches who are not teachers at the school just like Ms. Rhonda. Also for us girls we have things that we can't handle with Coach K. because he is a male and we are females so it makes it a lot easier for us having Ms. Rhonda around. I just feel our team would benefit very much by having her because she is a wonderful person," Roller concluded.
While Willoughby, whose responsibility it is to hire all personnel in the school system, has not named her for the position, he stressed that it is not because Merriman is in any way unfit to work with students.
"Ms. Rhonda is an excellent person. She is outstanding. If she were not fit, she wouldn't be at the high school. She is an excellent person. I just want to make that point, but I have not named her as an assistant coach," Willoughby told the assembly.
School board member W.J. (Dub) Evins told the Review that he felt Merriman has earned the job, and that an effort should be made to allow her to take the position. "If we can aggressively pursue a legal way that we can hire Rhonda Merriman without getting into wage and hour concerns, I think she deserves the job," he said.