The basketball coach, a local legend, was retiring after thirty-some years that saw numerous sectional championships. The state championship proved elusive, but the pennants strung along the perimeter of the gym were testament to his ability to instill in his boys the desire to win. Like only one other coach I have known, this coach had the ability to make starters out of kids who would have ridden the bench or quit in other schools.
But here was the most remarkable thing: He was more than willing to sit a kid out who was slacking off on his academic work, and the kids knew it. So some of his boys pulled their best grades during basketball season. And their attendance was excellent.
I had enormous respect for him, so during his last season I asked him if he had a recommendation for a successor since there wasn't a clear heir apparent. He did – a young man who had played for him in high school and had returned to the district to teach elementary school. The students liked and respected him and the parents supported him. He had volunteered his time with the coach over the past couple of years and the coach had had the opportunity to see him in action. He was very young, however, and boys’ basketball was the major sport at the high school. I worried that he wouldn’t be mature enough to make good decisions although I had seen nothing to suggest that. But on the retiring coach’s recommendation, I was ready to take the young man’s name to the board.
Of course, that would have been too easy. When word leaked that the young man was in line to succeed the retiring coach, the faculty mobilized behind another coach who had been on staff for much longer and who had aspirations for the job. Interestingly enough, no one insisted that he would do a better job; instead, the faculty’s argument was that he “deserved” the position by dint of his seniority. Well, in the end we appointed the young man but not without a lot of angst in between.
Seniority should be acknowledged; after all, senior teachers and coaches have put in their time and deserve consideration. But merit, when you can use it, is the trump card. The teacher who has both experience and merit is a treasure – like the retiring coach. Longevity, however, by itself, is just that. And, of course, in the end if you have to make a choice, it’s about what the kids deserve, not what the faculty deserves.