VandenHeede not pleased with dismissalPublished 4:01pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Veteran Niles girls cross country coach Dan VandenHeede was not retained by the school district as its coach after meeting with athletic director Jeff Upton.
VandenHeede, who has coached at Niles for 11 years, claimed that he was fired from his job not because of performance, but because of his being critical of Upton’s brother — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and the fact that he spoke at a school board meeting in favor of the Niles teachers who were in the middle of a contract dispute.
“I obviously will never know what the real circumstances of my firing were, but I believe it has to do more with retaliation than my performance,” VandenHeede said. “Mr. Upton never expressed any concerns about my coaching, never forwarded any complaints and never did an evaluation until six months after the season was over and I had gone to the school board meeting.”
VandenHeede also said in a letter to Niles Supt. Richard Weigel, “I think it must be said that I believe there to be an outside reason for my dismissal. In March, four months after my season was over and two months before I was contacted regarding an evaluation, I attended and spoke at a Niles school board meeting. I spoke regarding what I believed to be the board not negotiating in good faith with the teachers.
“I started by saying I was not at the meeting as a coach or a teacher, but as a parent, as I have two students enrolled at Niles schools. I went on to question some of the budget numbers that the board has presented and asked that they quit the ‘shenanigans’ and negotiate a fair contract. Although cheered by the 40 or so teachers in attendance the board appeared extremely displeased with my speech.
“I believe that my dismissal has more to do with the fact that I dared to speak up to the board and the fact that I have written editorials critical of Mr. Upton’s brother, Congressman Fred Upton, than my actual coaching performance.”
According to VandenHeede, Weigel’s response was that he does not micromanage his administrators, but that he would speak to Jeff Upton about it. He added he has heard nothing more about it.
Upton said that the timing of the evaluation and his recommendation not to rehire VandenHeede had nothing to do with either charge.
The delay in the evaluation was due to the fact that he was not happy with the previous evaluation form and was working to create a new form, which was not finished until late in the spring.
“I contacted several athletic directors to get their input and came up with the new one. That was the reason for the delay. Dan was not the only coach to have his evaluation well after their season had ended,” Upton said.
As for him retaliating for comments made about his brother, Upton said it had nothing to do with it. He added his brother has been involved in politics for many years and he has heard both good and bad things about him.
“It kind of goes with whichever way he voted on the last bill,” Upton said.
In a letter to VandenHeede about the meeting, dated May 23, Upton cited difficulties in communication, collection of uniforms and practice times as the key issues for his dismissal.
“We discussed that you believe in sending emails was the best way to communicate,” the letter said. “I believed in more direct communication by phone or face-to-face would be better. Certainly I am accessible in the office or at the school many hours and many hours after school is out.”
VandenHeede countered with the fact that he teaches school in Dowagiac and communicates via email because of that fact. He also pointed out that practice begins later than some sports, also because of the fact that he teaches in a different district.
At their meeting, according to Upton, VandenHeede refused to sign his evaluation.
“I then asked you if you would like to formally go over the evaluation,” the letter states. “You said ‘why?’ you already fired me. I then asked you again to sign the evaluation and you refused to sign.”
Upton did offer to give VandenHeede a copy of the evaluation, which he took.
(Editor’s note: Dan VandenHeede has written a letter to the editor, which appears in Thursday’s edition of the Niles Daily Star)