West Valley petition

Malachi Brooks (No. 22 red jersey) conducts a media interview while other members of the West Valley High School football team gather Thursday afternoon, Aug. 15, 2019, outside of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District building. The team members presented to the office of FNSBSD Superintendent Karen Gaborik a petition to reinstate all assistant coaches for the West Valley varsity and junior squads. The assistant coaches are not with the program after the near drowning of three West Valley student-athletes during a preseason conditioning session July 27 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center Pool. Roy Hessner resigned as the West Valley’s varsity head coach after the incident. DANNY MARTIN/NEWS-MINER

Nine West Valley High School football players and a team manager presented a petition Thursday afternoon to the office of Karen Gaborik, superintendent of Fairbanks North Star Borough schools, to have all six assistant coaches reinstated.

The coaches are not with the program after three West Valley student-athletes nearly drowned during a preseason conditioning session July 26 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center pool. Roy Hessner, who was in his first season West Valley's varsity football head coach, resigned July 27.

Andrew Cassel, school district public relations director, accepted the petition and said he would give it to Gaborik.

"They looked pretty shocked that we were there," Shaun Conwell, a junior on the team, said outside the school district building after the group delivered the petition.

An email with a portion of the petition was sent early Thursday to the News-Miner.

"We the West Valley Varsity and JV squads are requesting that All Our Current 2019 Assistant Coaches and JV Coaches be reinstated immediately and be allowed to coach us so that we have the opportunity to excel with our training as given to other football teams in the interior, who have full permanent coaching squads. We the undersigned fully support the action," the email stated.

According to the email, the petition was signed by all or most of the West Valley football players. West Valley Principal Sarah Gilliam was given a copy of the petition, and she directed the players to deliver it to the superintendent's office.

"We are going to support them because we know that they didn't do anything wrong," Conwell said.

"This whole team has known those coaches, and they would never put us in a bad situation like that or stuff like that. We're just know that we're here to try to get our coaches back so we can have a successful season again, and we can all work together and be more disciplined on the field."

"We miss the coaches and we miss them being there," senior running back and outside linebacker Justin Cummings said.

"It's tough bringing in new coaches and them having to put the whole team together and do all this on so short of notice. We've been talking to the (assistant) coaches and they all want to come back, and we want them to come back. So we're just trying to get it done as fast as possible."

Later, at the school district building, Cassel said, "Everything that's happening with the inquiry is happening inside the school district, and we really can't say anything more."

The district held a special meeting Aug. 5 to discuss and allow public comment about the incident, which occurred during what the school district described as a "team-building exercise." The incident is still under investigation.

According to information in late July from Sharice Walker, also a PR director for FNSB schools, seven West Valley coaches — Hessner and six assistants — were present at the UAF pool during the incident.

The three student-athletes who were injured were interested in trying out for the team. Forty players participated in the activity.

Marmian Grimes, UAF spokesperson, said an ambulance was dispatched to the Patty Center for a reported drowning at 7:23 p.m. July 26.

Grimes told the News-Miner on July 28 that when first responders arrived, they found three youths who were unresponsive after being rescued from the bottom of the deep end of the pool. Emergency medical personnel were able to revive them and transport them to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Two of the players were released from the hospital during that weekend and the other was released July 30.

Since the incident, Norm Davis, a longtime West Valley wrestling coach, became the football team's acting head coach. The team also has a group of acting assistant coaches.

The delivery of the petition occurred on the eve of West Valley's regular-season opener at 6 p.m. today at Wasilla.

The Wolfpack players have tried to stay focused for the nonconference Division II opener against the Wasilla Warriors.

"It was really hard at first, but I think the key was those coaches who stepped up for us and those coaches that came and helped us get back on our 'A' game," Malachi Brooks, a Wolfpack junior halfback and defensive end, said outside the school district building.

"I know a lot of my teammates and all my brothers were like, 'We're down in a hole and we don't have our coaches. These coaches have been coaching us since day one.' I think it was those coaches who stepped up and helped us get back on our 'A' game."

However, he added, "We're still not complete yet."

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.