Lyndonville appoints new athletic director

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 July 2019 at 10:15 am

2 board members who supported Dillenbeck say they will help new AD, James Zeliff

Photos by Tom Rivers: A supporter for Lee Dillenbeck, Lyndonville’s athletic director the past 18 years, displays a sign in favor of him continuing in the role this morning outside the school. The Board of Education voted 5-2 to appoint James Zeliff to the role.

LYNDONVILLE – The board of education in a 5-2 vote this morning appointed James Zeliff to be the district’s new athletic director.

The appointment follows an uproar in the community with many people, including teachers and coaches, wanting Lee Dillenbeck to continue in the position. Dillenbeck was the athletic director for 18 years.

Zeliff will continue in his role as dean of students for the district. His part-time role as AD comes with a $3,000 stipend. He also is allowed two periods a day to work in the position.

“I think Jimmy is a wonderful person,” said board member Vern Fonda. “I think he can do the job. But if the recommendation is not for Lee, I can’t support it.”

Fonda and Steve Vann both didn’t vote for Zeliff, stating their support for Dillenbeck to stay in the position.

However, Fonda and Vann said they will back Zeliff now that he has been appointed and will try to help him succeed in the position.

Many of the Lyndonville coaches stated at a board meeting on July 1 they wanted Dillenbeck to stay. Fonda urged them to keep coaching and work with the Lyndonville student athletes.

“Let’s please not microscope and micromanage him,” Fonda said about Zeliff. “He’s going to need all the help we can give him.”

Zeliff has a Master of Science in Education, with a major in Physical Education and a major track of Athletic Administration from Brockport College. Additionally, he has coached volleyball, football, wrestling and track at the modified, junior varsity and varsity levels in Lyndonville and other districts. Zeliff has previous management/leadership experience at the Iroquois Job Corps.

About 75 people attended the meeting today that started at 7 a.m. in the school library. Many were angry when the vote passed for Zeliff, with Dillenbeck ousted from the position.

Residents wanted to hear reasons from board members for why Dillenbeck wasn’t reappointed, despite Jason Smith, the district superintendent, twice stated his support for Dillenbeck at a June 10 meeting and then on July 1.

About 75 people attended the 7 a.m. meeting in the school library.

Smith has interviewed Zeliff and the superintendent recommended him to the board before today’s meeting.

“Mr. Zeliff demonstrates the commitment, passion, knowledge and enthusiasm to be successful at this position,” Smith said in a statement. “We look forward to working with him moving forward in providing our students with exceptional and well-rounded athletic experiences, including both shared and district-based programs.”

Audience members continued to press for answers on why Dillenbeck didn’t have the support of the board.

Sue Hrovat, a board member who backed Zeliff, said Dillenbeck didn’t show enough backing for merged sports programs with Medina.

That drew an angry response from the crowd, with many saying Dillenbeck has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining that partnership with Medina.

Hrovat said Lyndonville has a declining student population and the merged programs with Medina is the best option for Lyndonville to maintain programs.

There was a push by some community to no longer have a merged boys varsity soccer with Medina. The board ultimately decided to keep the merged program and is now doing four-year commitments instead of looking at the shared sports each year with Medina.

“We are losing people in droves,” Hrovat said. “We need a vision for the future. I respect Lee. He is a good man. He did not buy into the merger.”

Vern Fonda, a DEC conservation officer, speaks by video conference this morning. He wanted Dillenbeck to stay as athletic director but said he would support James Zeliff in the position. Board of Education members Kristin Nicholson and Harold Suhr voted for Zeliff.

Board President Ted Lewis several times had to insist on order from the crowd this morning, which shouted angry responses.

Vann, one of the two board members who favored keeping Dillenbeck, faulted the board for how it communicating its displeasure with Dillenbeck. Vann said Dillenbeck was meeting the expectations set out by the superintendent and board for the athletic program.

But Vann said the majority of the board believes Zeliff is a better candidate for the position.

“I don’t feel that way,” Vann said in support of Dillenbeck.

Vann offered that Zeliff “is a great guy” and Vann will now give him his “full support.”

Fonda said the board didn’t follow the “correct path” for picking a new athletic director. Fonda said if there  was unhappiness with Dillenbeck, the board should have given him a chance to address it. Fonda said the district also should have planned for a mentor to help Zeliff adjust to the new role with the district.

Fonda also urged the community to now rally around Zeliff in the position.

“Jimmy is enthusiastic. He is selfless,” Fonda said. “I feel terrible for Jimmy now. He is going to be under a magnifying glass. It is not fair to him.”

Lewis, the board president, issued a statement in support of Zeliff as athletic director.

“We are excited to work with James to continue expanding athletic opportunities for Lyndonville students including supporting our merged programs,” Lewis said. “We have confidence that James will help improve athletic performance of our teams and help to further develop our coaches.”

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