Windsor football

School officials, athletes, parents and coaches are all awaiting decisions about the return of high school sports this fall.

With $123 million in state aid for public school districts lost on June 1 due to budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19, school officials have been forced to examine how important athletics will be if classes are allowed to resume in August.

Windsor C-1 School District Superintendent Joel Holland said the budget cuts, which include $7.2 million for transportation, will cost his district $900,000 in June and July.

“We have to take care of the folks who are here from a salary, insurance and education standpoint,” Holland said. “That means fill from within and save money within.”

For the third straight year, Windsor needs to hire a new activities director. Tom Ludwig replaced Kevin Stoffey in 2017 and Ross Koenig was hired in 2019 after Ludwig left. Koenig was hired in May to be the principal at Crystal City High School.

Koenig is a 1998 graduate of Crystal City and his first teaching position was at the middle school and high school. Before arriving at Windsor, Koenig taught, coached and was an assistant principal in the Jefferson R-7 School District.

Holland said Koenig is a rising star in education who is on the fast track to running a district. I asked Holland if he was aware of Koenig’s loftier goals when he interviewed him for the AD job last year.

“We talked about that,” Holland said. “It didn’t take me five minutes talking to Ross to realize he has a high ceiling. I want to hire the best person possible. Ross will be in somebody’s central office soon. He’ll be an assistant and superintendent someday. We feel blessed to have had him. Crystal City is getting a great principal.”

What about considering stability for a position that seems to be a launching point for a better job right now?

“There’s never a guarantee on that,” Holland said, stressing that no hire is a certainty. “The district has to feel like the person is doing the right thing. I’d hire Ross again if I knew he was going to be gone in a year. He took care of his work and he treated people very professionally.”

Holland said he’s been in regular contact with superintendents from Jefferson, St. Louis and St. Charles counties in discussions on how to proceed with reopening schools this fall. He said the superintendents from Jefferson County regularly meet via Zoom on Wednesdays.

“We bounce ideas off of each other about what’s realistic and what’s not,” Holland said. “Our districts are independent, but we want to align with each other to make this easier.”

There’s nothing easy about the subject of funding and reopening sports. No one wants to repeat the spring season when sports were abruptly canceled and training and hard work were erased because of the pandemic.

But if there’s a spike in cases in the next month as coaches and players start to integrate again, school districts may have no choice but to cancel sports again.

And if that happens, why would Windsor need an AD, or even pay the coaches stipends for at least the fall sports season?

These are things Holland and the Windsor C-1 school board, and their counterparts elsewhere, will have to decide within the next few weeks.

“We paid our coaches last spring,” Holland said. “There will be wording on contracts going forward about pay in terms of how much of a season there is.”

Holland said his district sent out surveys asking parents of its students if they wanted their children to return to classrooms this fall. He said responses fell into two categories: parents who aren’t comfortable sending their children back, and those who are wanting to send them back.

Windsor’s last day of classroom learning was March 17. Holland said if students are back, there will be social distancing signs and measures in place. If online learning resumes, Holland said at Windsor it would mean “rigorous virtual education.”

“There’s going to be some inherent risk involved,” Holland said. “It will be hard to keep kindergartners six feet apart. They like to be hugged.”

Freeman resigns as Hillsboro football coach

Former Hillsboro football head coach Lee Freeman said there’s no intrigue in his stepping down from the job he has held since 2014.

“There’s no real story here,” said Freeman, who resigned on June 9. “I’m 40 and my wife (Rene) and I made a tough decision to move on and do different things.”

During the stay-at-home orders for the county and state, Freeman said Rene, who is a nurse, has been deployed to several parts of the St. Louis area. He said it’s unknown how long that will last. Freeman will still teach physical education at Hillsboro.

“Football takes up a lot of time from your family,” he said.

Under Freeman, the Hawks compiled a record of 43-26 (.623) and won the Class 4 District 1 championship in 2017 with a win against Cape Girardeau Central. Hillsboro advanced to the quarterfinals for just the third time that year, ultimately losing to Ladue.

Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Hawks went 18-7 and had one of the most dynamic offenses in the state. In 2016, Hillsboro averaged 40.5 points per game and brutalized Sikeston with 72 points in the district semifinals. Running back Micheal Keller scorched the Bulldogs for 445 yards and seven touchdowns. Over those two years, Keller rushed for 3,538 yards and 61 TDs. Luke Skaggs posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and scored 24 TDs.

After most of the starters from those two years graduated, Freeman had to rebuild. The Hawks were 8-13 the last two seasons, but they have a returning sophomore class that is the envy of the Mississippi Area Football Conference Red Division.

As a freshman, running back Jaxin Patterson rushed for 1,364 yards and 14 scores and was voted onto the division’s first-team offense.

Freeman said it was his goal to leave the program in better shape than he found it.

“For the last 16 years I’ve dedicated my life to football in a lot of ways,” Freeman said. “Hillsboro had three quarterfinal appearances and I was blessed to be there for two of them. I’ve coached some of the best players in Missouri.”

With Freeman’s departure, Hillsboro needs to fill his position and also hire a boys and a girls soccer coach. New Hillsboro activities director Chris Schacht doesn’t officially begin his duties until July 1, but he said he hopes to give the Hillsboro R-3 school board recommendations for all three jobs by its June 25 meeting.

Out of the Woods

I met former St. Pius X head baseball and football coach Jerry Woods at a restaurant in Festus last week to talk about his new job as the head football coach at Bayless.

Eric Lawrence coached under Woods in both sports at St. Pius before he was named the Bayless activities director last year. It made sense to me that Woods would help Lawrence get the fledgling program on the right track. The Bronchos have had a varsity football team for two seasons and have a record of 3-16.

Woods coached at St. Pius for 18 years and has taught there for 19. He stepped down as the Lancers’ head football coach in 2018 after one of the best seasons in years. Shortly after the season ended, Woods’ father died. His mother became ill after that. She lives in Jackson and is doing better, Woods said. Being the only sibling in the area, Woods was needed by his parents.

When St. Pius needed a bus driver for the 2019-2020 school year, Woods volunteered to drive. Coaching was never far from his mind though.

As we knocked down cheese garlic bread, salad, pizza and several Cokes, Woods showed me the championship ring he’d been given after being an unpaid volunteer assistant coach at Valle Catholic in Ste. Genevieve. The Warriors beat Lincoln to win the Class 1 state title last December. It was Valle’s state record-tying 15th state crown.

I was shocked. I had no idea Woods was coaching at Valle. I covered the game when St. Pius played in Ste. Genevieve and didn’t even know he was there.

Woods said he made a hard decision before joining the Warriors.

He said he had been offered a job by an air ambulance service in southeast Missouri, making twice the amount of money he was being paid as a teacher. Woods was a pilot for the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War. He said despite the advances in technology in the cockpit, flying came back immediately.

It kind of surprised me that Woods chose coaching over flying. He said the missions he would have flown would have been important, but so would taking over a fairly new football program. Woods’ bigger goal other than coaching players how to run a slant route, he said, is to make them better people. That falls in line with how Lawrence approaches educating student-athletes, so the two maybe were destined to be reunited.