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Salmon River school board doesn’t have votes to end Plante’s coaching ban

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FORT COVINGTON - A tie was always like a loss when Bill Plante was standing behind the Salmon River boy’s varsity hockey team bench, and the long-time coach, who was relieved of his coaching duties in February 2008, saw a tie vote at Monday night’s Salmon River Central School Board of Education meeting derail an effort to return the state’s winningest high school hockey coach to his former post.

A move to revise a 2008 resolution that barred Mr. Plante from coaching at Salmon River failed on a 4-4-1o.

More than 50 people jammed the board room Monday in a crowd reminiscient of those that packed people three to four deep around the boards when the Shamrocks were on top of their game.

Mr. Plante’s high school teams won 553 hockey teams during his coaching career, a state record, and the Shamrocks won six state Division II championships - 1980, ‘81, ‘86, ‘92, ‘01 and ‘02 when he was behind the bench.

But his style, attitude and coaching philosophy also drew critics and a taping of an expletive filled off ice conversation with his players ended his coaching career in 2008. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, in a letter to the school board dated Sept. 20, urged school officials to keep the coaching ban on its books.

“We strongly believe that allowing Mr. Plante to resume involvemen in the coaching of the student athletes of the Salmon River Central School District constitutes a complete disregard for the well being of the children that he comes in contact with as well as sending a message that the abusive language and behavior exhibited by Mr. Plante while a coach, found by the arbitrator during Mr, Plante’s appeal to include calling children ‘moron’ and ‘retard’ is acceptable behavior on the part of an adult entristed to be a role model for our children,” the letter signed by two of the three chiefs and all three sub chiefs said.

“... the arbitrator found that a recording of Mr. Plante showed ‘clear and incontrovertible evidence of at least racial stereotyping if not of outright racism.’ This pattern of behavior, coupled with numerous warnings and negative evaluations of Mr. Plante’s performance during the time period just prior to his being removed permanently as coach, gives us serious doubt as to the basis of any reconsideration of the board’s 2008 decision and, indeed, any acknowledgement on the part of Mr. Plante that he behaved improperly,” the letter noted.

The tribal council urged the school board to stand by its February 2008 decision to ban Mr. Plante from any future coaching duties at Salmon River.

“We hope that you will consider the effects your decision will have upon the future generations of students/players in both of our communities in addition to the potential legal liability your decision ro reinstate Mr. Plante as an athletic coach could place on the Salmon River Central School District,” the letter signed by tribal chiefs Ron Lafrance Jr. and Beverly Cook added.

Those who spoke during an extended public comment period at Monday’s meeting were evenly divided, with seven speaking in Mr. Plante’s favor and seven against.

Comments reflected the board vote, reached only after a 45-minute closed-door session. Board President Chris Nye, Michael Sisto, Peter Ghostlaw and Roger Lapage voted in favor of striking the portion of the 2008 resolution that bars Mr. Plante from all future coaching positions. Vice President Greg Cunningham, Linda Durant, Sheila Marshall, and Matt Mainville voted against the measure. Robert Durant, who cast the final vote on the issue, abstained. Superintendent Jane Collins had also said she was opposed to the change.

The proposed amendment came four years after an arbitrator ruled against Mr. Plante for using “inappropriate, demeaning and derogatory language toward the student-athletes he was coaching, as well as using inappropriate racial stereotypes,” according to court documents.

A high school hockey player at the time provided the school district with evidence of this language by recording 50 minutes of what was described as a typical night’s “pep talk.”

Many speaking against Mr. Plante, who sat silently through the comment period, quoted a transcript of the recording, with popular excerpts being “nobody gives a **** whether you’re dead or alive” and “you’re a bunch of ****ing retards.”

A rant about his team’s lack of physical play also drew considerable attention. “Everybody’s ****ing all over you guys. I can’t believe you don’t stand up to them. I don’t believe ..., you’re a bunch of ******* Indians... Native Americans, whatever you want to ******* be called. None of you ******* are going anywhere,” the transcript read.

The recording was filled with expletives and its transcript was posted on the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council’s web site Tuesday.

“Is that okay for a 14-year old to hear?” Michael Connors asked during public comment.

Others, including Tribal Chiefs Cook and Lafrance, echoed the sentiment.

“To have to hear that from adults who are supposed to be mentoring them and teaching them and guiding them,“ Ms. Cook said. “The young man who made that tape did it for a reason.”

Mr. Lafrance described Mr. Plante as “hell of a coach” but wondered about the cost of reinstating him. He said he did not believe the recording would mark a one-time incident.

Mr. Nye pointed out Chief Paul Thompson refused to sign a Sept. 20 letter to the board expressing the tribe’s official position because he is close friends with Mr. Plante.

But there were also many who attended the board meeting to speak in Mr. Plante’s favor.

“Over the past couple years, community involvement and participation in our hockey games has come down at least 50 percent,” Arena Director Charlie Bishop said. “While Bill was coach, he knew how to motivate kids and produce a winning environment.”

Several student athletes from throughout Mr. Plante’s 36-year teaching career also made an appearance to support their former coach. Many suggested Mr. Plante’s behavior was typical of efforts to psyche teams up noted hey all turned out fine or better off because of his influence.

“Things were said. It’s a locker room, it’s hockey,” said Garret Cree. “The goal is to win.”

Tim Ghostlaw and Tim Gray claimed the charge of racism was ridiculous.

“We’ve got all kinds of kids from all different backgrounds,” said Tim Ghostlaw. “Bill, he took that diversity and somehow managed to get them to work together. And all these kids are growing up to be good young men, and I’m proud of them.”

Community members spoke for over 45 minutes, refusing to be silenced well after the 10-minute limit on public comment.

Mr. Nye expressed some concern that the meeting had turned into a sort of witch hunt. He recognized the pain associated with the 2008 incident, but said he he knows for sure that Mr. Plante is not a racist. He also suggested four years as a long time to punish an award-winning coach for a mistake he believes Mr. Plante will never repeat.

“The tension and anger [of the crowd], it’s real and I’m affected by it. But at the same time I just kept saying that you’ve got to look for justice. You’ve got to look for balance. You’ve got to look for fairness,” according to Mr, Nye. “Does this punishment fit this crime?”

When asked to comment on the meeting and why he didn’t speak directly to the community, Mr. Plante took a moment to consider.

“I thought my speakers spoke well enough for me,” he said.

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