East Aurora not scoring points in coach’s playbook
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org November 16, 2012 4:06PM
East Aurora coach Kurt Becker celebrates with lineman Joel Silva after a Tomcats touchdown. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 17, 2012 8:20AM
What Kurt Becker is doing for East Aurora High School football is impressive.
It’s so commendable, in fact, he was a recipient of the 2012 “Courage in Sports” award presented by CBS. And his story was featured nationally last Sunday in a one-hour special recognizing those who have made a difference — past honorees include Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron and Walter Payton — in the world of sports.
The spin CBS put on the show went something like this: Deeply affected by the loss of his onetime teammate Dave Duerson, this former offensive lineman for the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears has returned to his alma mater of East Aurora High School to take on the issue of concussions and head trauma at the youth football level.
Becker’s stint as head football coach at East Aurora is about much more than head trauma, however. “It’s about changing young people’s lives,” he said. And while doing so, the former Bear hopes to recapture a winning tradition at the high school that has not seen much success in sports for quite a few years.
But when I sat down with him last week to talk about the honor, Becker wasn’t even sure he’d return to coach at his beloved alma mater another year, despite the work that still needs to be done there.
“I feel deeply committed,” he said of the young football players, most from economically stressed homes. “But I also feel cheated and used.”
Becker is upset because he was not given an administrative position he says School Board President Annette Johnson and Superintendent Jerome Roberts promised him to help offset the financial hit his vending business would take. In addition to coaching the Tomcats, he was in charge of East football’s feeder programs, including the three junior high teams and a new youth tackle league the Bears helped sponsor.
“Where I come from, your word is your bond,” he said. “But that doesn’t seem to matter with them.”
Not only did the School Board “renege on its promise,” Becker insisted, he and his coaches never saw contracts, and have yet to receive their stipends for the football season. The trainer also came to him Thursday night, he added, “very concerned” she’d not been paid in five weeks.
Johnson insisted the trainer is getting her salary on time; and that the coaches, Becker included, would be paid for the football season at the end of November, which is 30 days after its official end.
She described the snafu over the administrative position Becker was to have received as “unfortunate.” But she puts the blame on the state budget cuts that hit in July, which left the district with a $2 million shortfall. Instead of laying off teachers, she said, officials cut administrative positions and held off on all but the most needed repairs.
That brings us to another of Becker’s concerns. He said he went to bat for the impoverished School District for a $250,000 NFL grant for the Tomcat’s football stadium that’s badly in need of renovation. Becker said Bears personnel told him all East Aurora had to do was write a grant request and the money was theirs.
Johnson contends the NFL money was part of a matching grant the district could not afford to meet. But Becker countered, saying “no one even bothered to look into the offer.”
Johnson insisted sports at East High is an important focus of the district’s student-enrichment philosophy. And Becker’s “success and winning attitude,” she added, is a huge piece of the plan to revive its winning tradition.
“I love Kurt Becker,” said Johnson, who lauded the head coach, despite a winless season, for the “huge impact” he made on East football. “But people get focused on one program and don’t see the big picture ... we are trying to fix 30 years of dysfunction all at one time.”
Becker argues it’s the current leadership that needs to be fixed — and immediately. As an example, he talked about the Chicago Bears meeting with the district to partner with five community programs. Except for the youth tackle league he directed, Becker said there was no follow-up.
Part of the problem could be the district is so focused on putting out fires. Recent controversies include problems with credit card accountability and insurance record-keeping that led to the resignation of one administrator and the firing of an assistant. The district also took serious PR hits for the way it handled a bullying policy that resulted in the suspension of yet another administrator.
“There’s so much chaos over there, it leads to dysfunction. That, in turn, leads to paralysis, which creates more dysfunction,” Becker said.
“How do you change a culture among the kids when you need to change the culture of the system?”