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Coach supporters speak out
new slt BCC danceline protest
Barton Community College student Luke OBryan, holding paper, and other supporters of fired cheerleading coach Debbie Warren, gather outside the college trustees meeting Thursday afternoon. The group of about 30 people was allowed to choose one person to speak for five minutes. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Baugh named RSVP director


Barton Community College’s Board of Trustees approved the hiring of three new employees during its December business meeting, held Thursday in the Fine Arts Building.

Donna Baugh was named director of the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP), Oliver Twelvetrees was named head coach of the men’s soccer program and Brett Hillegeist was hired part-time as a mechanical systems technician on the Barton County campus.

In other action, the board approved creating two 22-credit certificate programs for the early childhood education program, and approved a new policy on executive limitations. Among other things, the new policy prohibits the college president from expanding services into new regions without consultation with the board of trustees. The president also cannot allow services to be extended into new areas without adequately addressing the impact it will have on resources and future planning of the college.


More than 30 people walked out of the Barton Community College Board of Trustees meeting, minutes after the meeting began Thursday afternoon. They had come to the meeting for one purpose: to express their dismay with last week’s firing of head cheerleading coach Debbie Warren, who had been at the college for 27 years.

Board chairman Dr. Paul Maneth said student Luke O’Bryan had approached him about supporters speaking at the meeting, and the students had agreed to have one spokesman who would be given five minutes at the beginning of the meeting. Their chosen representative was Gina Spilker-Johnson, one of Warren’s former danceline students and a former assistant to Coach Warren.

"This is very ... this is a very emotional situation for me," Johnson said, fighting back tears. She went on to read a prepared statement that mostly described the achievements and character of Warren. Her cheerleading and danceline programs have spent "25 straight years in the national spotlight," Johnson said. "But if you only look in the trophy case, you’re only getting part of the story."

Johnson said Warren worked with over 2,500 students during her career at Barton, building up a program that averages 80 students per year. The cheer and dance students have provided good public relations for the college, from visiting and tutoring elementary students to being on national television.

"There are two sides to every story, and I wonder if the president has only attempted to hear one," Johnson said, concerning Warren’s termination.

After she was fired last week, Warren told the Great Bend Tribune the decision had been made by President Carl Heilman, with input from her supervisor, Athletic Director Craig Fletchall, who is also head men’s basketball coach. Warren declined to discuss details of her termination, on advice of her attorney, and college trustees and administrators do not discuss personnel matters in public.

"There appears to be a conflict of interest having a coach as an Athletic Director," Johnson told the board.

Johnson said she was appalled by the decision, and said in less than a week students, alumni and others had organized more than 50 letters of concern, plus 340 alumni voicing concern, and gathered more than 200 petition signatures, "all with students conveniently on the way home for the semester break."

After Johnson concluded her remarks there was applause from the audience. One trustee, Don Learned, said he would like for more audience members to have an opportunity to speak.

"Is there some reason we can’t let more people talk?" Learned asked, reminding chairman Maneth that after another coach was fired last year, several people were allowed to address the board. When Maneth said he would stick with his decision, Learned said, "I disagree with you."

There was no further discussion of the matter during the board meeting. Warren supporters left, wondering what they had accomplished. As they gathered outside the board room, many agreed they would meet at Warren’s home for further discussion.