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School officials, community members and Chester High School alumni from the past six decades came together for nearly three hours Nov. 23 in a facilitated discussion specific to the heartfelt topics of school spirit and history.
The stated catalyst behind the meeting was the decision Principal Scott Cory made to dispose of approximately 25–30 sports trophies.
In her opening, meeting facilitator Nina Dupont-Stone said, “The purpose of this meeting is to understand the decision process and to agree on a way forward that maintains Chester Junior/Senior High School’s heritage and pride.”
She explained the agenda and how the meeting would proceed. Only when she spoke about breaking into small groups to list clarifying questions and ways to move forward did she meet resistance.
A few of the alumni clearly stated they wanted the opportunity to vent, that they weren’t interested in a process but rather “getting right to the chase.”
One member of the alumni said the purpose of her attendance at the meeting was to “learn what had really happened.” She also said, “I don’t personally give a rip about trophies.”
However, she did say that disposing of the trophies showed a “total lack of understanding about small schools and small towns.” She also said, ”We can have solutions and we can help Mr. Cory understand.”
The facilitator said she knew exactly what the speaker was talking about with her opening comment and called it the “telephone game.”
“You know how it works—many times the last call is not factual; let’s get back to the original intent,” said Dupont-Stone.
After listening, Dupont-Stone requested permission from Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Glenn Harris to switch the order of planned activities and a clarifying forum evolved.
She described the change in the process as “a time to really listen and understand.”
Dupont-Stone introduced Harris and Cory to the audience, and Cory spoke about the trophies.
When asked which trophies were thrown away, Cory said they were small, plastic and primarily won by junior varsity teams since the year 2000.
He said the trophies did not bear individual athletes’ names. He said the lack of storage space at the school was a determining factor behind his decision.
During the course of the forum Cory apologized several times. He also said he would never make the same decision again. He spoke of lessons learned and how much he has learned about the school and community during this time of upset.
“I will definitely come away from this with a clear understanding of what the school means to the community,” he said.
Harris also spoke and thanked everyone “for their time and interest in the community and the plethora of e-mails” he had received.
As the comments continued, emotions ran the full gamut: hurt, outrage, disbelief and sorrow for the loss of any trophy that might have borne the name of a classmate who died while serving in Vietnam or another war.
Chester Elementary School teacher Kelly Furtado offered a number of comments and also spoke to community rumors. She said, “The rumors are so ugly and the hatred is so awful.” Despite, as she described it, “being bitten by her elders” she still chose to publicly offer her support to Cory.
She spoke about the number of years they had worked together and of her trust in his integrity. She also voiced her concern about the number of other trophies that may have gone missing since the 1950s, and said she didn’t want to see the blame fall on Cory’s shoulders for any trophies that may be found to be missing from past actions.
The audience then broke into approximately six discussion groups. After about 30 minutes the meeting resumed and each group reported in.
Dupont-Stone asked each speaker to list any clarifying questions and potential solutions.
Nearly all the selected group speakers said their questions had been answered sufficiently, and nearly all of the groups came back with suggestions for formation of an alumni association.
Other solutions included activities such as making a master list of trophies and storing them year-by-year and sport-by-sport.
One suggestion was to research all the trophies in school annuals and on sports federation websites; missing trophies could be replaced with a small plaque.
Another suggestion was that a tribute to all CHS fallen veterans be made in the form of a plaque.
The number-one identified need, other than the alumni association, was communication.
An alumnus made this point by saying, “Before votes on mascots, etc., connect with the alumni and communicate with members before students vote for change; make sure they know the history.”
Alumni Marie White and Bing Miller helped to coordinate the meeting and personally paid for the facilitating services of Nina Dupont-Stone.
No discussion was held about potential future meetings on the topic.
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