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Former Gregory girls basketball coach: I was just here to please the parents

GREGORY -- First-year Gregory girls basketball coach Christi Rozeboom, whose contract was not renewed last month, believes she lost her job for replacing seniors in the starting lineup for younger players.

"It's been bizarre. It's been one of the most crazy things I've ever been involved in," Rozeboom told The Daily Republic.

Crazy, Rozeboom said, because the first half of the season was a breeze, despite just one win in that stretch for the Gorillas. But in late January, she said, feuds with members of the administration and one parent made things go south quickly.

She said no administrators or school board members told her why the board voted unanimously to end her tenure on March 10.

"I just don't know. Nobody has told me anything that says, 'Yeah, this is what you did wrong,' " Rozeboom said.

She also contends that Athletic Director Sherrie Kafka was influencing her coaching choices, including which players to send onto the court. Rozeboom said Kafka told her she had to start the seniors on the team or risk being suspended.

"She told me that the seniors had to start because it was their time and that they had paid their dues," Rozeboom said. "It didn't matter that we were losing every game."

There were other situations in which, Rozeboom said, Kafka and other school administrators had two-hour meetings related to team activities, including Rozeboom's weekly written game recaps for the Gregory newspaper.

Gregory Superintendent Sara Klein and School Board President Dave Shoemaker declined The Daily Republic's interview requests. Klein said the decision not to renew Rozenboom's contract is a personnel matter.

Kafka told The Daily Republic in February that the decision to suspend Rozeboom did not involve a dispute between either a coach and a player or a coach and a parent.

Following a game against Marty Indian School, Rozeboom said a parent "laid into her" about how Rozeboom lost Gregory the game in the second quarter, when the parent's senior daughter was substituted out of the game and that she "had no business playing those younger girls." Rozeboom said the player who was taken out had averaged about one point per game throughout the season and had previously played most of each game.

Later in the month, when Gregory played in the conference tournament at Kadoka, Rozeboom said three players, including the parent's daughter, did not participate in warmups before the game. Instead, she said they stood off to the side because they were not in the starting lineup. Later, one of those players reportedly made an obscene gesture with middle fingers as they stormed off the court, Rozeboom said.

All three later quit in the locker room and Rozeboom said the same parent confronted her and personally attacked her character. Gregory went on to win the game 66-49.

"She said that she would break my fingers," Rozeboom said. "And she said that I shouldn't be around kids."

That parent declined to comment when The Daily Republic contacted her.

Rozeboom admitted to making mistakes during her coaching tenure, though. She started a Facebook page featuring team news and updates that included her personal opinions, something she regrets doing. She also said she regrets trying to be too much of a friend to the players and not enough of a coach.

"I was trying to win them over," she said.

Rozeboom said some comments she made to the Gregory Times-Advocate, the town's weekly newspaper, were controversial. She referenced the gap between Gregory's team and other schools that have cooperative agreements or have consolidated in recent years. In particular, she wrote that schools like Mount Vernon and Plankinton have taken advantage of merging their towns together for basketball and have a larger pool of upperclassmen to play.

Rozeboom is a 1994 Gregory graduate and said she was proud to coach at the school, even though she had little basketball coaching experience. She coached high school and college volleyball at Madison and Vermillion high schools and Dakota State University and had been an assistant volleyball coach at Gregory in 1999-2000, where she won an assistant coach of the year award.

"I think I was just here to please the parents," Rozeboom said of her basketball coaching stint. "Zero wins in a season didn't bother some of them. It bothered me a lot. I wanted us to win."

Rozeboom said she received 15 minutes before the school board last month to state her case, during which she said she was largely apologetic and had made mistakes, adding that she would be grateful for a second chance. After 30 minutes of executive session, the board unanimously voted to not renew Rozeboom's contract, according to published school board minutes.

"I've been surprised this whole time," Rozeboom said. "Every time I thought I had a chance of being reinstated, the opposite has happened."

The team, which finished 3-19 on the season and lost in the District 12B semi-finals, will have a fourth coach in as many years in 2014-15.

"I loved being coach. I would have done it for free," Rozeboom said.