MURRAY — Cooper Bateman has listened to Scott Cate preach about how football is actually teaching the 17-year-old how to succeed in business more times than he can count.
Now the Cottonwood High quarterback is relying on the lessons he learned from those discussions as he navigates losing Cate as a coach.
The Granite School District's decision to amend a rule governing donations from private citizens ended Cate's 13 years as the Colts' offensive coordinator on Monday. The policy, which the Granite School Board will vote on in final form at their next meeting July 10, precludes donors who give more than $499 over the course of a season or year from serving in a coaching, supervising or organizing capacity or "exerting any other direct or indirect influence over students, teams or any other school program or function."
Parents who gathered a half hour before a meeting with newly hired head coach Greg Croshaw were disappointed that no district official was on hand to answer questions about the rationale for the change.
"This discussion has been going on for quite a while," Mike Fraser, assistant superintendent over school accountability service, told the Deseret News Thursday morning. "The thing that got most of our attention right now, were those things happening at Timpview High School."
Fraser, who was a football coach at Granger and Hunter High Schools as well as a principal at Hunter, said high school athletics has changed dramatically in the last decade as boosters have offered more financial support than educational administrators ever anticipated or experienced in the past. The audits of Timpview's football program raised a lot of questions for administrators — as well as coaches — and it prompted the state to audit a number of programs statewide, the results of which are not complete yet.
In the Granite District, officials examined how people donate, some of which will change slightly, and how those donors should be allowed to interact with the schools and programs they support.
Fraser said it would be easy to turn a blind eye to what happened at Timpview, but instead, they're hoping to learn from the situation and subsequent investigations.
"This keeps the district out of harms way, as it protects the people who are making decision about kids and the opportunities they have," said district spokesman Ben Horsley.
That's the change that ended Cate's affiliation with Cottonwood — a school he chose to help because "it was my neighborhood school," he said Thursday afternoon.
While district officials say the rule changes protect the integrity of how and why students make teams or earn playing time, Cate said having him pay for the needs of the program, which both he and the district estimate to be somewhere between $4 and $5 million, actually gave coaches more protection.
"Freedom from undue influence is what I hoped to give the coaches," said Cate, whose three children graduated from Cottonwood. "I took all of the influence out of high school sports. We didn't need to suck up to parents or fund-raise with businesses."
Cate said the unwillingness of public education administrators to pay coaches a reasonable salary, but then expect them to coach year-round, fund-raise and help student athletes with the recruiting process is hypocritical.
"Somebody has to step up and say this is important to our community," Cate said. "Or we say what it is. You know what, parents, throw a ball out in August and don't expect anything else."
Cate was meeting with Cottonwood football players about the death of offensive line coach Mike Gallegos, who was killed by an alleged drunk driver on Saturday morning, when he received a call from Granite School District's superintendent asking him to come to a meeting. At that meeting, he was thanked for his generosity and told of the new rule. He said he was baffled at the move because there are other ways to deal with the situation that don't turn people like him away.
"I'm not a booster," said Cate. "I'm there 100 percent to promote the kids, to help them get ready to go to college."
He said he chose to invest his time and money in a high school football program because he loves the game. His own parents were teachers and his father was his high school football coach. When he moved to Utah, he had no affiliation with any school and chose Cottonwood because it was his neighborhood school.
"People told me to go to Skyline," he said. "But this isn't about winning for me. It's about working with kids. It's my religion. I built a church so kids could learn."
District officials acknowledge he's given to many other programs, at the school, and Cate said his foundation helps schools and programs around the country. One program offers teachers the chance to earn advanced degrees if they, in return, volunteer at a high school for the same number of time. He said the new donation policies now prohibit that kind of support for coaches hoping to increase their education.
"In 13 years, I've never made one demand," he said. "I worked for the coaches they chose. I did what I was told. I'm not a booster; I don't fund-raise; and what did I get in return? I get brutalized. I get criticized."
He admits the only thing he gets is to be inspired by the young men he teaches. And Thursday evening some of his former players attended the meeting, in part to help the players deal with yet another change, and in part to show support for Cate.
"It's something sad for me," said Alabama-bound Bateman as he prepared to meet his new head coach, who was the head coach at Dixie College for 24 years and left a job at Mesa State Community College to take the Cottonwood position. "He's been my quarterback coach, my mentor for the four years I've been here. I've learned everything from him. Aside from football I've learned life lessons off the field. Everything with Scott has been to incorporate to a business-like mentality, and I thank him for that. It is a loss for our team. The things he's done for this program, the entire school and the money he's put into it. The boys at heart, he wishes he could be here, but things have changed."
They've changed, and the community — especially parents — want to know why.
"What prompted them to get rid of a donor, and in these economic times, how do they feel this is fiscally responsible to do this?" Vicki Johnson, president of the Colts' Booster Club said she wanted to ask the district officials she thought might be at the meeting. "Scott is an awesome guy, and he is in it for the right reasons. It's not just about the starter. My son does not start, and his grades are tracked just like Cooper Bateman's."
Parents and players gave Croshaw a warm welcome Thursday night in a meeting that included the school's new principal, Alan Parrish.
Those in attendance said that is what the former coaches would have wanted.
"The best way we can honor our coaches … is to get back up and keep going, to play hard, to not get knocked down, to represent our school, and represent our community the best way we can," said Johnson, who will meet with district officials on her own Friday.
Bateman said the players are looking forward to returning their focus to football Friday morning.
"Our team can feel a sense of comfort now that we have a coach in place," said Bateman, "someone to my understanding, who is one of the most winning coaches in junior college history. The opportunity we get to have him be part of this team, you know, that's an honor."
He said he will keep in mind the lessons Cate taught him as he tries to help Croshaw lead his teammates into the new season.
"Things happen," he said, emotion threatening to overtake him. "Things change. You have to roll with it. What I've learned from Scott is that this is a business, and he's your new boss. He's going to run things how he wants to and the sooner we can get everybody on board for the new program, the better season we will have."
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