FOSSIL — Condon/Wheeler head track coach Jon Bowerman, son of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, is parting ways with the program he took to a 2012 state title.
The superintendents of Condon and Fossil school districts informed Bowerman his contract will not be renewed and the position will be opened to applicants, including the former coach. But Bowerman has said he will walk away rather than re-apply for the job.
Bowerman and his wife Melissa, a volunteer assistant, led the Knights girls’ track team to a Class 1A state championship in May just weeks after Melissa was dismissed from the team for taking a student to the Condon High School prom.
Sperry and Zarate declined to comment on why Bowerman’s contract wasn’t renewed, saying it was a committee decision.
Each coach for the athletic programs of Condon/Wheeler, a co-op between the two high schools, is hired on a one-year contract. The committee, which serves an advisory role to the respective school boards in hiring matters, then holds a vote during the summer on each position to decide whether to stick with a current coach or open the door to applicants.
Condon school board and athletic advisory committee member Bryce Logan said the vote didn’t necessarily mean the school district would cut ties with Bowerman.
“It’s not like anybody’s ever fired,” Logan said. “Every coach every year comes up for reviewal.”
When Bowerman and his wife joined the Condon/Wheeler program during the 2008-09 school year, the team consisted of just six student athletes. Since then, the turnout has ballooned to more than 30 athletes that have won district titles for both girls and boys and the girls’ state championship.
Those accolades should speak for themselves, he said.
“Betrayal’s probably a pretty good word,” Bowerman said. “We are not going to appeal this. We feel that our track record is such that we have no cause for appeal.”
Bowerman estimates he and his wife have been responsible for more than $200,000 in funds raised for the program since they took over, including a state-of-the-art track facility in Condon. But the coach has toyed with the idea of walking away from his position since Melissa was asked to leave her volunteer role late last track season.
Melissa, 41, took a male track team member to prom in April, saying that she did so because the boy felt bad about not having a date and had been struggling in English class.
“If they go on (academic) probation and suspension, then they can’t go to the track meets,” Melissa told the East Oregonian in May. “I said, ‘OK, I will go with you, but we’ve got to talk about English first. You’re going to do better in English.’ ”
The decision, which Melissa called an error in judgment, led to an investigation from the school districts and her dismissal.
Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt, who received a complaint from a prom chaperone, concluded his own investigation in June and found no evidence that Melissa broke a law or had any criminal intentions.
There is no appeal process for Melissa’s former position though, Zarate said, because it was strictly volunteer.
When asked if he would consider coaching without his wife, Jon Bower man was direct. “No. Definitely not. Even though I had the title as head coach, she was the de facto head coach.”
Bowerman, who works in a salaried position as a natural resources coordinator with Fossil School District, said he may leave that job as well in the future. The pair also are open to coaching track again elsewhere.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.