A group of Centralia High School baseball players arrived at the school district’s monthly Board of Directors meeting Wednesday night to ask for the removal of head baseball coach Jon Rooklidge.
The players — over a dozen in all — attended the meeting prepared to turn in their uniforms, and made an impromptu presentation to the board before meeting with Centralia High School athletic director Josh Lowe in a separate room.
The board did not take any action on the matter, though Centralia School District Superintendent Steve Bodnar said the involved parties are working together to resolve the matter.
“Our head baseball coach, for the remainder of the season, is Jon Rooklidge,” Bodnar said after the meeting. “There was an awareness by the board, and our high school principal, athletic director, superintendent and assistant superintendent were all aware of the issues. We will be working on a plan together with the parents, the student-athletes, and with the coach.”
The assembled players — with a group of around a dozen parents waiting for them outside the district office — said that if no changes are made by Friday, they plan to turn in their uniforms and quit the team.
Jaeger Evinger, a senior, spoke to the board on behalf of the gathered players, covering what the players see as disrespectful behavior on the part of their coach.
The players took issue with what they referred to as negativity, intimidation and a lack of positive support on Rooklidge’s part.
“People don’t know what happens in practice,” senior Cole Housden said. “We’re the ones that go through and have to deal with it. No one else does.”
During the meeting with Lowe, the players said they were informed that the rest of the coaching staff had agreed to step down if, for whatever reason, Rooklidge was no longer the head coach. The players said they informed Lowe of the plan to quit on Friday if no changes are made.
“Either jerseys on the floor, or something big happens,” Housden said. “That’s sad. I love this team. I’d die on this field.”
The players, speaking as a team, added that the assistant coaches have all been great to work with, and that they respect Rooklidge off the field.
“I don’t think any of us have a problem with Mr. Rooklidge outside of baseball,” Housden added.
Rooklidge declined to comment specifically on the matter.
“We’re here to have the best season we can have,” Rooklidge said. “It’s a game for kids. We’re here for the kids, and we support them.”
Not all of the team’s players were present for the board meeting, Bodnar confirmed. About 13 players were present, while 20 are listed on the Tigers’ varsity roster. Senior pitcher Karson Hysong was the lone member of the team to officially turn in his uniform and leave the team.
“We’re working to problem-solve, and clearly the parents and students, their voices were heard tonight,” Bodnar said. “We’re putting together the information, and we’ll be meeting, even tomorrow, to develop a plan for problem-solving.”
Bodnar said that, ideally, this type of problem should be worked out before or after the season.
“Our goal is not to have a disruption in the season,” he said. “Because of the circumstances, we’re going to try to problem-solve and do what we need to before the end of the season.”
Centralia went 15-8 last season and made the 16-team regional round of the State 1A tournament in four of the last five seasons. Centralia, after a 3-2 win over Tumwater Wednesday night, has an 8-4 record and is in second place in the Evergreen 2A Conference standings. The current Tiger team features a core of players from teams that made the 15-year-old Babe Ruth World Series in 2009 and 2011.
“(Our record) has been good, but it hasn’t been because of the high school program,” Housden said.
“He didn’t make us what we are,” pitcher Brandon Conradi said. “That was other people.”
The Tigers are slated to host Capital in a nonleague game today, at 4:30 p.m., at Ed Wheeler Field — and the intact roster, for the time being, plans on playing.
“You’re going to see the same Centralia baseball you’ve seen this 8-4 season,” Housden said.