Jamison Whiting hauled in a 40-yard touchdown last September on the first offensive play by the Washburn Miller football varsity on its new artificial turf field.
But there was only a portable scoreboard to record the feat.
On Monday, Whiting led a walkout by close to 200 students at the Minneapolis high school who were hoping to save Athletic Director Dan Pratt’s job. He led the push for a new scoreboard, which remains on hold because of questions about where it will go and whether proper procedures to obtain it were followed.
The district hasn’t said why Pratt is being investigated, calling it a “private personnel matter.” District spokesman Stan Alleyne said Pratt has not been disciplined. Family members and supporters said he’s been offered a chance to apply elsewhere in the district, but said he wants to stay at the school he entered at age 14, and where he has been athletic director for 13 years.
Several dozen parents and alumni joined Monday’s show of support by students, who walked out knowing they were facing unexcused absences.
“All we’re saying is this: let the facts come out,” said Dave Arundel, a 1970 graduate and member of the school’s hall of fame for his hockey and football exploits. If Pratt did something wrong, discipline him, he said. “What did Dan Pratt do that was so wrong, or is it a vendetta?”
A Jan. 10 e-mail sheds some light on the issue. In the e-mail, principal Carol Markham-Cousins told Pratt she would not be supporting the scoreboard for several reasons. She listed failure to follow district procedures, lack of a purchase order, lack of communication with her administration about the process and agreement for the scoreboard, community concerns about removal of trees, the cost of the scoreboard in a tight funding climate, and a lack of three bids.
But she later relented after Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle proposed several mitigating steps. They include having money raised for the project turned over to the district or to Washburn, and obtaining superintendent and school board approval.
Pratt supporters said the $141,472 scoreboard was not budgeted in the $1.25 million fundraising plan launched in 2010 for the artificial turf that was installed last summer. Much of that came from youth sports grants from Hennepin County and the National Football League. About $45,000 was raised via the Miller Open golf tournament.
Family members said Pratt has been fundraising to replace the scoreboard for 10 years.
The scoreboard ran afoul of neighbors, who complained that pine trees put in to shield them from the games would have been cut down to make way for it. That led the city to tell the district that it couldn’t proceed until it met with residents over the location and height of the scoreboard and how it will be landscaped.
Pratt’s supporters said his value to Washburn stems from his relationship with students. “Kids on the edge, he’ll give them a second chance,” said Patty Gardner, who attended Monday’s walkout.
Some parents were upset that the school pre-emptively declared a code yellow security alert because of the walkout. A district spokeswoman said the purpose was to keep track of parents and other community members who might enter the building.
Both Pratt and Markham-Cousins have declined to comment on the Pratt issue, except for this from her Monday: “I think people need to be able to express themselves.”