The Danville Independent School District: A broader perspective

BY MERLE CLARK

1961 Graduate of Danville High School and Parent of a 1998 and a 2002 graduate

The recent considerable controversy arising from the Danville Independent School District Superintendent’s firing of the Danville High School football coach may well be an event which prompts and awakens a needed interest in the operations of the Danville Independent School District.  Parents and taxpayers within the District have the most direct and immediate stake in how the school district is operated and managed.  But the education, and the entire educational experience, of the local students of the District is also of vital importance to the entire community.  The schools reflect the community and are, and have been, a major part of the identity of Danville.

School History and Traditions

In a way, a beloved school represents a connection of the past with the present and the future.  Perhaps it belongs, in part, to all of them as its beneficiaries.  It does not simply exist for the present without consideration and appreciation of its proud history and traditions.  That which exists today was supported by taxpayers and residents for decades in the past.  The history and traditions were the product of many years of work by a large number of very fine teachers, administrators, and students.  Danville High School graduates have traditionally been able to go anywhere in the world and succeed, whether higher education, or in any occupation or profession.  Generally, they were proud of their school and the school was proud of them.

Not every student wants to play high school sports or is suited to play.  But those who have played and participated will tell you that it was one of the major experiences of their growing up and overall education.  To many it represented a time never again to be repeated: an intense time of enthusiasm, discipline and hard work, and comradeship in a common purpose.   The friendships and lessons there are extremely important to those involved and those memories standout in a lifetime of memories.  They are a special type of memory.

Anyone coming to the Danville system without learning of its proud history and tradition would be at a significant disadvantage.  Danville football has been for many decades one of its well-known traditions.  It came to be an identifying aspect of Danville itself.  How it came to be is not certain, but most likely became embedded here because of the national success of Centre College during the years of 1917-1924 when Centre became a dominant national college football power during that period of time. It was far more than the 1921 Centre victory of over then top-rated Harvard, which in those days was an annual powerhouse.  Rather, it was a sustained success, during those years, of tiny Centre as it played the top football schools in America and held a record of fifty-eight wins, eight losses, and two ties, and was offered a Rose Bowl game in 1921.  In successive games in November of 1924 Centre defeated Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia and won the Southern Championship, with a total score in those four games of seventy to seven. It seemed unlikely that such a small college down in rural Kentucky could accomplish what it did.  But it happened.  In a similar manner the relatively small Danville High School established itself, over a long period of time, as one of Kentucky’s formidable high school football programs.  Over many years it was highly successful in competing against much larger high schools, whether Lexington and Louisville in the earlier days, or the larger schools in the latter days with the adoption of the classification by size system after school consolidation and school population growth.

The Special Role of a Coach

Danville had some outstanding football coaches who built and maintained the school’s tradition.  The early ones I do not know, but in our time, there were fine men such as Ed Rutledge, Jim Pickens, Ray Callahan, Jerry Boyd, Ken Snowden and others.  Talk to any old timers who played for them and learn that their impact on their lives was important.  More recently, Danville High School football was at its pinnacle under head coach Sam Harp and his outstanding assistants, including Jerry Perry, Marty Jaggers, Barnard Brant, David McAfee, and others.  In this latter era the role of a coach broadened even beyond what it traditionally was.  A coach also needed to be a father figure, a counselor, a psychologist, and a friend.   Player demographics and a chaotic society now required a coach to do much more that just coach the sport.

Clay Clevenger was a good choice to follow Sam Harp.  Perhaps he was the first Danville Admiral football player to ever become Danville’s head football coach.  He proved himself as a player in high school and college, and as a coach in his first coaching jobs.  Most importantly, he knew the Danville program and tradition and was willing to put himself wholeheartedly into this job with all its unique challenges.  It appears from the vast outpouring of comments about the firing of Clay Clevenger that his players, and those who know him best, believed him to be the right person in whose hands was placed the proud and valuable tradition of Danville football.

Another Direction

“To go in another direction” raises several questions.  What direction?  Deemphasis of football and sports overall?  Less involvement with the town and the relationship of town and school?  Disregarding the alumni and supporters of the school?  It is unclear. This commentary is not to emphasize athletics over academics; rather, athletics and academics should be complimentary in every way possible.  The past indicates that this had generally been achieved over a long period of time. But one thing is certain:  it is immensely important that the people within the Danville Independent School District pay more attention to the local schools and the manner in which they are operated.  The voters in the District elect the Board of Education, and the Board hires and evaluates the superintendent.    The Board imposes the local taxes, sets the District budget, sets the salary schedule for all district staff: monitors District performance, and adopts the school curriculum. The Board represents the direct connection of the community to its schools.  Its role is major.

Support from an
Informed Public

The Board of the Danville Independent School District needs the support of an informed public.  The current controversy suggests a small independent school district such as Danville needs all the goodwill and support it can draw from the local community; otherwise, it will be weakened to the point where it will be more difficult to survive.  There has existed some thought that the Danville District is too small to warrant a separate independent school district that justifies the costs of the administrative staff and structure to operate it.  To terminate it and consolidate it within the larger local district is not a desirable outcome.  There are many reasons why maintaining the Danville Independent School System is important to the community and the students and families that it serves.  Those who operate it should do their best not to lose the support of the community.