TAWAS CITY – Tawas Area athletics will go on; although the Braves are going to have a different athletic director. Matt Unke, who has served as Tawas’ athletic director, a part-time position at the district, for the last three years, stepped down from that role Wednesday evening. This coming just hours after Tawas superintendent John Klinger announced that fall athletics would continue on at the school, despite Unke’s recommendation that they be cancelled.
“He did submit a letter of resignation, basically he just stated that he did not want to take on the responsibility to organize these kinds of events,” Klinger said. “Matt and I had a very good discussion (Wednesday), it was honest and very open. He left on good terms and we respect his stance and wish him the best as he moves on.”
Unke spelled out his thoughts in his resignation letter.
“With the Board of Education deciding to move forward with fall sports I can not, in good conscience, be the person who is responsible for facilitating large gatherings,” it read. “I have come to this decision as no scientific data has been presented to show we should be moving forward with these types of events.
“To the contrary, the governor discussed, on Wednesday at a press conference, how the parts of the state that have been opened up (Phase 5 for regions 6 and 8) show increases in cases. The very next day she allowed all parts of the state to move forward. This was unexpected as every action, up to this point, had placed restrictions on our ability to play and even went as far as postponing the sport of football till the spring.
“I ask, ‘what changed overnight?’ Absolutely nothing that is based on scientific data. Therefore, I have submitted my letter of resignation.”
Tawas has since named former athletic director Lynn Kosto as the district’s interim A.D. Kosto, last served that role in 2015, before retiring from the district after many years as a teacher and administrator. Klinger added that the school hopes to have a permanent hire sometime in the next month.
“We are very fortunate to have someone who has experience willing to step into this position while we do our search,” Klinger said.
Despite Unke’s belief that Tawas not conduct fall sports, Klinger feels confident the district has made the right choice to move on.
“As of this moment in time, we have all the answers we need and we are looking at moving forward with our schedule as planned, whether we are at home or on the road,” he said. “We began first thing (Tuesday) morning reaching out to different stake holders and legal council to make sure we were interpreting things accurately and to make sure we complied with the law and the executive orders. Throughout the process it became much clearer that we could do that. It just took time to gather all the facts that we needed.”
The MHSAA announced on Thursday, Sept. 3 that fall athletics, including football could resume competition, as long as participants wore masks. This contradicted an earlier executive order stating that masks are not required in strenuous activity.
“Mr. Unke had done a lot of leg work to look into the new executive order and the MHSAA recommendations and during his time he found that there were some very significant discrepancies. He brought this information to me (Friday, Sept. 3) and at that point he could not recommend moving on with fall sports. I explained to him Friday that I would dig in and find the answers.”
Friday afternoon Unke sent out an email to his coaching staff, outlining his thoughts on the matter. A portion of the email read as follows:
“I met with Mr. Klinger today (Friday) and have recommended that Tawas Area Schools does not move forward with football, soccer, and (junior high) girls basketball in accordance with MDHHS guidelines. I also recommended not playing volleyball this fall and cite numerous COVID-19 cases in neighboring states of Indiana and Ohio for my reason. I recommended we continue with Cross Country as this sport has been given the green light to practice and participate from day one. It is my recommendation that this sport continue following all guidelines in the new EO.”
Later in the email, Unke admits that the decision would not have been a popular one, had it gone through. Klinger feels that the work Unke did behind the scenes was admirable.
“Mr. Unke was just bringing forth his concerns, and they were very legitimate and they came from time well invested,” Klinger said. “He not only had the districts best interest, he was looking out for the students’ welfare as well. I appreciate him looking into things thoroughly and to keep the students’ safety and welfare in mind and I appreciate that he was willing to share those concerns with me so we could do our due diligence to find the most accurate information possible to move forward.”
Despite the announcement that the district plans to move forward with fall sports, that doesn’t eliminate the concern Klinger has with his student athletes mandated to wear masks during competition.
“My concern mirrors the concern of many people, having athletes who are competing at a very high level with masks could restrict airflow,” he said. “They are already loosening some mask requirements in that officials are not required to wear them and we are anxiously awaiting what the exact mask requirements will be for student athletes.”
Unke did not return requests for further comments as of Thursday afternoon.