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In a 6-0 unanimous decision, the Eudora School Board hired Olathe North Assistant Coach Jesse Owen as their next Head Football Coach. Five of the board members were present and Board Member Joe Hurla participated in the meeting via phone. Board Member Mark Chrislip was not in attendance.
Owen will replace Kevin Kopecky who coached a single season in Eudora and lead the team to a 5-4 season and missed the playoffs.
The move was made with some dissent by a group of parents and students who strongly supported current Assistant Coach Phil Katzenmeier. Approximately 35 students and parents showed up to the board meeting to make known that they were in support of Katzenmeier for the job.
Added to the agenda just prior to the meeting, two students were allowed to present their position for hiring Katzenmeier as the head coach. Sophomores Matthew Buchhorn and Trevor Neis each rose to support Katzenmeier’s promotion to the head job.
“I understand that there are times when it is the right thing to do to hire someone from out of district like when there are no other qualified personnel in the district to fill the position, but this is not the case” Buchhorn said. “Coach Katzenmeier has proved his ability and dedication to the school district and the players by his many coaching positions and in classrooms around the district.”
Neis also spoke favorably of Katzenmeier and his long association with the School District.
“Being at school for so many years, he (Katzenmeier) has created a bond between him and the player that is very important for a team,” Neis said. “Players know him and he knows the players.”
School Board President Eric Votaw did commend the students that rose to speak in favor of Katzenmeier and all those that reached out to the Board and District officials over the decision. Votaw noted that “your voice had been heard.”
The Board then spent 45 minutes in executive session to wrestle with the issue. For comparison, a decision to hire an elementary music school instructor took all of five minutes in executive session. The discussions that took place during these sessions are private and the public is not allowed to listen or know what precisely was said in the meetings. After the executive session, the board returned to the room to announce the hiring of Owen.
While Owen did not wish to comment on the record following the meeting, his current boss and Head Coach of the Olathe North High School team Gene Weir who also attended the meeting did talk about losing Owen to Eudora.
“This is a big loss for us,” Weir said. “I am happy to support our people and I think the Eudora School Board made a great decision in hiring Jesse.”
Eudora High School Principal G.A. Buie was excited to have Owen joining the EHS staff.
“He’s got a great passion for the kids and he has the desire to win a championship,” Buie told us.
On the topic of hiring Owen over Katzenmeier, Buie said that there was some stiff competition and many factors were weighed.
“Phil is an awesome individual, but this was a very competitive choice,” Buie said. “We had three or four Sunflower League coaches want this job and we were very fortunate to get Jesse.” The Sunflower league is home to 12 6A schools from the Shawnee Mission, Olathe, Lawrence and Leavenworth School Districts.
Votaw in a one-on-one interview said he would not discuss the decision on one candidate over another, but stated that Owen came highly recommended.
“He was an outstanding player and coach, he’s passionate and he’s extremely well prepared. On top of that he’s a strong teacher as well,” Votaw said.
Votaw did not directly answer how much influence the showing by the students and parents had in the discussions by the board, but said he was excited to see the passion of the players, students and parents. Several board members all commented that they appreciated that the communication about the matter was always respectful and fair.
“I was about to say that we have a bunch of good kids here but that’s not true,” Board Member Mike Kelso said. “We have a bunch of good young adults here.”
We also talked to Neis following the decision by the board.
“I have nothing against the new coach. He seems like a real good coach and I am looking forward to working hard for him. I am hoping he can lead us to a winning season.”