A committee comprised of Turlock Unified School District staff and Turlock area community members hoping to see the Turlock High School varsity baseball field named after celebrated Bulldogs coach Mark de la Motte received disheartening news at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting after a review of the policy for naming TUSD facilities.
During the April 10 Board meeting, former TUSD deputy superintendent and committee member Ed Felt brought forward a proposal on behalf of a large committee to name the field in honor and recognition of de la Motte’s 42 years of accomplishments and achievements while coaching baseball, 26 of which were spent as the varsity head coach at THS.
“When a number of us found out recently that Mark de la Motte had decided to retire from the position…we thought, ‘You know what, it’s only once in a while someone like Mark comes along…and anytime you have an opportunity to recognize someone you should,’” Felt said April 10. “Mark has done some things over five decades relating to baseball and helping people grow.”
At the April 10 Board meeting, the reception to the proposal was positive, with Board President Barney Gordon calling de la Motte’s achievements “commendable.” Over the course of his career, de la Motte has not only won over 500 games and captured eight league titles, but the coach has also gone above and beyond to mentor his players.
In recognition of de la Motte’s success, the committee proposed on April 10 that the baseball field be named the Mark de la Motte Field. Gordon said the TUSD administration would evaluate the proposal to make sure it’s aligned with current Board policies, and from there it could be placed on a future agenda for a vote.
After a presentation from attorney Mike Smith on Tuesday, who went over the current Board Policy 7310: Naming of Facility, it became clear that the committee’s request does not meet the requirements. Under the Board’s current policy, which was adopted in 2011, TUSD schools may be named after any person living or deceased, while any other facilities or buildings should only be named after a deceased person.
Confusion about the policy – specifically, the wording – contributed to the mix-up which resulted in Felt and the rest of the committee believing that by “schools,” the Board policy also meant any school facilities.
“If I were to look at this policy, I would recommend you put a clear definition of what is a school and what is a non-school facility,” Smith said. “I think it can be clarified.”
Felt addressed the Board again Tuesday night, pointing out that in the past, facilities have been named after extraordinary coaching figures like Joe Debely and Steve Feaver while they were still living. Those two were named under different Board policies, with Joe Debely Stadium renamed in 1989 and the Steve Feaver Aquatic Center receiving its title in 2007.
Board Policy 7310 was changed in 1986, 1996 and then again in 2011, with the most recent version stating that athletic fields and other buildings or district facilities should be dedicated in memory of deceased students, staff members, community member and benefactors of the district.
“My question, when reviewing the history of this Board policy, is why was it changed?” Felt asked.
In addition to Feaver and Debely, Felt listed the names of other prominent figures within other school districts who have had facilities named after them while they were still living, and he also pointed out that Modesto City Schools and Merced Union High School District allow their facilities to be named after those who are still alive.
He implored the Board to reconsider the “restrictive language” of the current Board policy.
While the Board has the power to change the language of the policy, Gordon cautioned against making edits to TUSD policies in the heat of the moment.
“As is, the current policy doesn’t allow us to change the name of a facility for a living individual,” Gordon said. “Any time you’re trying to make a decision when there’s a lot of emotion involved, you’re not always going to make the best decision, so I think it’s important to have policies made when those emotions are not in play, and then not get swayed to change your policy so that you can do an action based on those emotions.”
Gordon laid out three possible routes for the Board to take regarding the current Board policy of naming facilities. One, he said, the Board can adjust the policy to give themselves more leeway when considering naming proposals. Two, the Board has the option to leave the policy as is, or three, the language within the policy can be strengthened and clarified to still require a person be deceased to have a facility named after them, but also to make that policy clearer to inquiring parties and avoid future confusion.
The Board members were in favor of revisiting the issue after the summer, and TUSD Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan apologized to the committee hoping to see de le Motte’s name grace the THS field.
“No one would have ever intentionally misguided folks and had you do all this work…I think it’s very helpful showing what neighboring districts are doing and the opportunity that our Board has to reexamine this policy whichever way they choose to go,” Trevethan said. “I do want to apologize to you because never would I have had you go through all this work.”