San Marcos High School football coach Steve Van Nest addresses his players after a loss last season. File photo.
By SEAN BATURA
The fate of San Marcos High School football coach and athletic director Steve Van Nest was on the minds of many at last week’s meeting of the San Marcos CISD school board.
The Rattlers are nearing the end of their fourth straight losing season and their third straight year without making the playoffs. The Rattlers already were near playing out the string before last Friday night, when they lost, 35-7, at Seguin in a game that figured to be their best chance for a win this season. The Rattlers play their last two games this season against District 25-5A leaders Cibolo Steele and Converse Judson.
The Rattlers are 0-3 in District 25-5A and 0-8 overall. In the last three seasons, the Rattlers are 5-22.
Residents and parents addressing the school board last week disagreed as to whether the problem lies in the coaching or the facilities. School officials concede that even with the new high school, which opened in 2007, San Marcos lags behind other Class 5A schools in the area — as well as many Class 4A schools — with its lack of an all-weather practice field or sufficient weight equipment.
Supporters and detractors of Van Nest clashed at the school board meeting, to which police were dispatched when tempers flared. No one was injured in the incident, which occurred just outside the meeting room. Police later filed the incident under “verbal disturbance.” Van Nest was not at the meeting.
Trustees did not comment on Van Nest at the meeting. The matter was not on the agenda, so trustees were prohibited from discussing it or taking action.
San Marcos resident Bob Vasquez told the board he sees high-quality coaching at the high school. Vasquez said some of football players this year seem to be “just going to go through the motions and wearing the jersey,” in his words.
“This year, they are not giving 100 percent,” Vasquez said. “They are just wearing that jersey — a lot of them are, a lot of them aren’t. It takes that whole team to come together. They’re going to start winning football games if you keep the system in place.”
San Marcos resident Dee Domke rose during the meeting to oppose Van Nest.
“If you’re not winning, do you blame the kids or do you blame the coach?” Domke said. “Or do you try to come together and try to fix it? I’m here to tell you it’s too late to fix … It’s time for him (Van Nest) to leave. I’m sorry, but it’s time for change.”
Vasquez said that “if it comes down to it,” he would pull his son out of San Marcos High School and send him to a district in Schertz, New Braunfels, or Kyle.
“Not just because of football, but just because the whole mentality here is like, ‘Well that was an easy fix, let’s get him out of here, let’s just bring somebody else in,'” Vasquez said. “That shows no stability in San Marcos at all.”
San Marcos resident Chris Moreno spoke in defense of Van Nest and told the board the district went through three head football coaches during his four years in the high school’s football program.
“That’s not stability,” said Moreno, who graduated in 1991. “The past 10 years or so, we’ve had stability, and we still have that with Coach Van Nest. My son’s a freshman. I don’t want to take that chance that the school board took when I was in high school. And I hope y’all understand that. By not keeping this man — I don’t know him personally, I don’t. I know him through football. I don’t know him as personally as some of you do. I know him through football, I know him through athletics. I go and watch their practices. They’re not having a good year. But I tell you what, he runs a tight ship, I know he runs a good practice. We’re not getting it done right now, but it’s time to circle the wagons and say, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re going to stand behind you. Let’s not take a chance and not bring this guy back.”
Domke told the board that even though her son is on the football team, Van Nest never lets him play. Domke said her son never objects to not playing, cheers on his teammates from the sidelines, and is a steadfast supporter of Van Nest. Domke said her son may not be one of the better players, though she said he has great spirit and should be allowed to play.
“I gave up my vacation for summertime to watch my boy go play,” Domke said. “We cannot schedule vacations or anything else until after his games. And I’m giving all of that up, and the man does not play my son and half of the other boys because they’re not good enough, or for whatever reason he’s not putting them on there. This has been … over a year. This has not just been this year. And I’m not speaking of just my son. I’m speaking for others.”
The Oct. 18 school board meeting was packed to standing room only, with most attendees apparently there for reasons related to Van Nest and the high school football team. At least two people rose during the public comment portion of the meeting to criticize Van Nest’s coaching. Eight members of the public spoke in Van Nest’s defense. The level of applause that occurred after members of each faction spoke seemed roughly equivalent.
Describing an incident she said happened during a football game, said Domke: “I said (to Van Nest), ‘You know, our first game we were at 40-something to zero. Why not put in the second string people? At the end of the third quarter you know whether you’re going to have a chance to catch up or not.’ He said, ‘Well, I did play them all.’ No, he didn’t. Myself, and there’s some other people out here that know that he didn’t play them all. But he stood there and he lied to me. So, I view him as a used car salesman.”
Later last week, Van Nest denied telling any parent that he fielded every player during a game.
“No coach would ever say that,” Van Nest said. “You can’t ever play everybody unless it’s just the perfect scenario. So, I’m not sure where she got that from. But I don’t think any coach has ever said that. We try. We try to give everybody playing time. But as you know, that’s just impossible, and we just do the best we can depending on the situation.”
Van Nest said coaching his team during what he said is “a very difficult season” has captured “100 percent” of his attention.
“I try and get these kids a positive experience, as we always do,” Van Nest said. “Of course, we’re trying to win some football games also, but it’s tough. We’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s been getting more and more difficult. That’s where my focus is right now. All the outside stuff — you go through tough years, there’s always going to be rumors flying around. So, I try not to get involved in that.”
During a discussion concerning district facilities, trustees asked San Marcos High School Principal Michelle Darling if some parents’ complaints about football practice facilities have merit.
“We’re not going to stack up in (weight room) square footage, we’re not going to stack up in all-weather (practice field),” Darling replied. “We’re probably the only 5A high school in our area that doesn’t have an all-weather field.”
Darling said she recently requested that an all-weather football practice field be included on a list of priority improvements for completion this budget year. The practice field did not make the list of items, which were identified by a facility needs assessment recently conducted by the district’s architect, Pfluger Associates Architects, in conjunction with district staff. Later during the Oct. 18 meeting, the board approved the list and authorized $1,509,525 in various improvements to all campuses.
“We’ve been behind the eight ball, or fighting at a disadvantage for about five years now,” Van Nest said. “In the early 2000s, the mid-2000s, everybody (the football team) played in the last five years either has, or installed, an artificial surface at their facility to practice on — which is a huge advantage, not just during the season, but throughout all the off-season. You never have a bad day in the workout when you’ve got a field like that. We still have our fields out here that really were never installed properly. And every time it rains, we’re in mud puddles for a week, so a lot of times we can’t even work out. It just puts us at a disadvantage when trying to prepare kids in-season and off-season.”
Van Nest said the only team the Rattlers may have faced in the last three years that didn’t have an all-weather practice field was Lampassas, who the Rattlers defeated twice.
“Everybody we’ve played in the last few years has also spent a lot of money updating their indoor facilities, as far as their weight facilities,” Van Nest said. “So, we’ve kind of fallen behind in that area. The new (high) school is great, but the athletic facilities are pretty — they don’t compare to our competition, is basically it. We were playing the big 4A schools the last couple years, and now we’re in a big 5A district, and our facilities just don’t compare with any of theirs, so we’re kind of fighting an uphill battle, and we’re kind of on an un-level playing field, as it were, in that area.”
Van Nest said that, outside of football, the athletic department at San Marcos High School is performing competitively.
“Last year was our second-best year ever for San Marcos High School, in terms of different teams making the post-season and making playoffs, and getting into post-season competitions,” Van Nest said. “So, that’s doing real well. A few years ago was our best year ever. So, we’re doing well with the overall athletic department. Football’s struggled the last couple years. We played in a different district than the other sports have in the previous two years. Three years ago when the realignment came out, I went to the (University Interscholastic League) and appealed the district alignment, and got all the other sports except football into 17-4A, a little bit closer to home. We had a lot of success in that district. Football always competed in 27-4A. Now, of course, we’re all bumped up into 5A together in the same district, now. But the athletic department is doing well. I’m real proud of what all these kids have accomplished. Our kids compete hard in all sports, and we’ve got a lot of good stuff going on. Right now we’re kind of mired in a difficult football season, so that’s kind of taking everybody’s focus away from everything else, but we have a lot of good things happening in the athletic department.”Email | Print