A frustrated Ketchikan High School volleyball team packed the Ketchikan School Board meeting on Wednesday and voiced serious complaints about its treatment, including a charge that a board member had made inappropriate observations about their uniforms.
That board member, meanwhile, argued he was trying to protect athletes after some girls complained the uniforms were too revealing.
Tylynn Ward, one of the volleyball coaches, and team captain Kinani Halvorsen said members of the team had gone through "sexual objectification" by a member of the School Board who polled people about the players' uniforms, which they said led to the team being offered new, less revealing shorts.
"The way our players are being viewed as not athletes, but as girls in booty shorts, if you will, it is not OK with me," Ward said. "I feel like respect needs to be given where it's due."
Halvorsen said the poll "served to bring unwanted, unnecessary and inappropriate attention to our athletes' bodies. It should never have been used as a justification to alter our uniforms."
Later, she said she "personally felt attacked and uncomfortable" with the observation about volleyball uniforms.
A group that went by the name Students First Parent Group didn't name the board member, but Dave Timmerman identified himself as the person they were discussing and disagreed with their interpretation of events.
Timmerman said he was at a volleyball match in September 2015 when he spoke to other female varsity athletes about why they chose not to play volleyball.
"The answer was: We don't want to wear those booty shorts," Timmerman said.
He said that throughout the following weekend he asked 50 people the question, "What's your opinion on the volleyball uniforms?" and everyone said the shorts were an issue.
"If somebody wants to say I was objectifying in a sexual manner, that's not it at all," he said during the meeting. "If anything, we're trying to protect the women, the girls that are out there."
Timmerman apologized to Halvorsen, "and anybody else who took that personally."
After the meeting, he told the Ketchikan Daily News that he thought he didn't make a mistake in asking about the uniforms.
After Timmerman raised the concerns about the volleyball shorts, the district chose to buy new shorts for the entire team, according to Schools Superintendent Robert Boyle. Boyle said the players weren't asked to change their shorts but were given the option to wear longer shorts.
Beyond the uniforms, volleyball coaches, parents and athletes spoke about a litany of complaints, touching on access to Ketchikan High School, poor medical facilities, the team's travel schedule and fundraising demands. They suggested the district go through an independent Title IX audit.
The group said they were forced to raise more funding for travel than other Ketchikan teams, especially boys teams.
On medical supplies and fundraising, School Board member Matt Eisenhower took aim at the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which provides a portion of the district's funding.
"I do want to take the opportunity to point out that there is a cost when our borough chooses not to fund our schools to the cap," Eisenhower said.
But the group's complaints touched on issues beyond fundraising.
They said the team was at times forced to wait behind the school for more than half an hour for the building to be unlocked so they could prepare for matches.
Parents and coaches also noted that the volleyball team is preparing for eight straight road matches, which they say is an unfair amount of traveling.
Halvorsen, a team captain, talked about lacking the ice and tape needed to treat athletes who rolled their ankles early in the season.
Volleyball referee Dara Otness said there was a "huge disconnect" between the team and the school's administration.
She noted a Sept. 3 match against Juneau-Douglas, in which Otness was called 15 minutes before the first of a couple of matches and asked to referee for the day, which ended up lasting more than 12 hours. A month earlier, she said, she gave Ketchikan activities director Jenn Smith the names of four potential referees.
"This is totally unfair to the program," said Rebecca Clark, who coaches the junior varsity team. "Does basketball supply their own refs? Do they pull boys off the floor or girls off the floor and say, 'Here's a whistle, go ref your game?' I don't think so."
In a phone interview after the meeting, Smith said the lack of referees was a problem for all Southeast Alaska teams, including Ketchikan.
"I was in communication with (volleyball coach Naomi Michelson) and we did have trouble finding referees for those games," Smith told the Ketchikan Daily News. "We did the best we could and I think it came together pretty well. There is only so much you can do when you ask the community and there aren't a lot of volleyball referees in Ketchikan. We did the best we could that day."
Clark suggested the Sept. 3 officiating issues were Smith's fault.
"I just feel like this isn't the only incident where this is going on," Clark said. "… Either the coordinator needs some help or we need a new coordinator. I don't know what else to say."
In an interview with the Daily News and during the board meeting, Ketchikan High School Principal Bob Marshall defended Smith.
"I'm a little concerned too about their dragging our activities director through the mud — I just want to be on the record for that," Marshall told the board. "I think there's lots of things that we as public faces unfortunately get judged for without real understanding of what goes along with that particular job or that job description."
Marshall and Boyle said they would examine the evidence offered by the group.
Sports Editor Joe Sturzl contributed to this report. Contact Nick Bowman at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News and is republished here with permission.