For about 90 minutes, friends and supporters of Mitch Overlie provided testimonials about the embattled coach’s character, drive and passion for Fallon’s youth.
The gathering of support came at Thursday’s Churchill County School District Board meeting at the Old High School.
Overlie is not allowed to coach distance runners for the upcoming track season after the Churchill County School District barred the coach about two weeks ago. While speculation has run rampant about the reasoning, the district has repeatedly declined to state publicly why Overlie was removed from the coaching ranks.
Many speakers said the decision to remove Overlie was tied to the December 2010 hazing incident involving the coach’s wrestling team at a tournament in Las Vegas.
Two weeks ago, the district settled for $712,500 with Dee Gregory, whose son was the victim.
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Sandra Sheldon, however, read a statement where she acknowledged she made the decision and not the board. On Feb. 21, Sheldon said the Board of Trustees made the recommendation Overlie should be removed from coaching.
“The reason for this decision is confidential,” she said.
Trustee Rich Gent attempted to solicit a future discussion item, after the public comment period, but as of now, no further action is scheduled to take place.
Despite Sheldon’s statement, 47 people spoke on Overlie’s behalf as about 70 people attended the meeting in his support. Students, athletes, coaches, parents and friends packed “The Pit.”
Many Churchill County High School students and current athletes spoke about Overlie’s positive influence, mentoring, ability to work with athletes and his push to get them in and out of the classroom. Some speakers even dangled the upcoming election and said those up for re-election may face a tough run.
One student-athlete, Elena Murray, was barely audible as she cried and stumbled through her statement in support of how Overlie made her better. Other students told tales of how Overlie accepted them regardless of size, talent or social standing and what his guidance has provided them throughout their tenure at CCHS.
Ryan McCormick, a first-year coach at CCHS, said his own brush with punishment delivered by Overlie was not fully realized until McCormick started coaching.
McCormick was caught drinking during the wrestling season more than six years ago and was suspended for two weeks. After the suspension, however, Overlie banned McCormick from competing at the 4A regional meet, which precluded McCormick from qualifying for state and did not receive a varsity letter either.
“I hated him for that,” McCormick said. “This year I realized what he was doing. He was motivating me to be a better person.”
Overlie, who stood with his wife, Lissa, did not speak but was moved by the outpouring of support.
Fallon track coach Steve Heck, meanwhile, challenged the board to think the decision through.
“I’m starting to doubt if this is where I should be because of these kind of decisions,” he said. “I planned on staying at Churchill County High School my entire career. But when you don’t want him to coach, and I want to emulate him, why am I here?
“There is a message you have to think about. You need to weigh your decisions carefully and think about what you are doing to the students at Churchill County High School. I understand that it’s not a life-time ban, but because you say that, doesn’t mean there really isn’t one in place.”
Heck also praised Overlie’s interaction with students and athletes.
“The thing you notice is the relationship between Coach O and his wrestlers. It’s something tangible and unless you’re there, you really can’t understand.
Coach O does what no other coach does. You can’t teach what he does. I’m jealous. You sit there and watch him and go, ‘Why can’t I have that relationship with my athletes?’ It’s an incredible thing.”
Parent John Dirickson said he has grown to know and respect Overlie and asked for him to be reinstated.
“I didn’t know the strength and impact he had on the children of our community until tonight,” he said. “You cannot lose that asset. You cannot take that asset away from our children.”