Jul 28, 2014
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Varsity Softball Team Fights to Save Coach's Job

Lawrence High School varsity softball players appeared before the Lawrence Township school board Monday (May 14) to speak out against the school administration’s decision not to renew the contract of their coach, Tara Harrigan.

Varsity Softball Team Fights to Save Coach's Job

Members of the Lawrence High School varsity softball team appeared before the Lawrence Township Board of Education at the board’s meeting Monday night (May 14) to speak out against the school administration’s decision not to renew the contract of their coach, Tara Harrigan.

Harrigan, a physical education teacher at Lawrence High School, was hired in January 2011 to fill the position left vacant by the retirement of Len Weister, who spent 38 years working in Lawrence Township schools, according to district officials.

“We recently found out that Tara Harrigan, a gym teacher and our softball coach, was not asked to return next school year,” Amanda Toto said after she and her teammates walked up to the podium during one of the meeting’s public participation opportunities. “We ask that you listen to us, not just as students but as softball players.”

“Coach Tara Harrigan is the greatest teacher we have ever had. She may be a gym teacher in theory but in practice she teaches us more… She teaches us what it means to have character and integrity. She teaches us what it means to be patient, kind, and to always look for the person who needs a little encouragement to discover their greatness,” softball team member Catie MacDuff said as she read an emotional letter to the board (the full text of which can be found below.)

“Harrigan is not like so many of the other teachers at Lawrence High School who do the bare minimum. Coach Harrigan never has her face buried in her clip board because it is so easy to just give bad grades instead of helping a student.  Tara Harrigan is a teacher because it is her calling, because it is the most important job in the world, because she has what it takes to make you want to be a better version of yourself,” MacDuff said. “To let go of Ms. Harrigan would be to let go of a teacher who not only does her job but does it well. To let go of Ms. Harrigan would be to send the message that if other teachers try to changes lives and aspire to become the epitome of what it means to be a teacher you will be struck down. Tara Harrigan is the best teacher Lawrence High School will ever have and without her the school, for many students, will no longer be the haven that she has created.

"Coach Harrigan pushes the team to perform to the best of our abilities.  The Lawrence High School softball program has had losing seasons for a long time. But that all changed when Coach Harrigan led us to our first State Championship game in more than three years,” MacDuff continued. “We cannot begin to express all that Coach Harrigan means to not only the Lawrence softball program, but also to Lawrence High School.  Firing Tara Harrigan is the single worst thing you could do to our softball program.” 

Fellow softball team member Alyssa Aloyo continued the defense of Harrigan, saying, “Letting this quality teacher go demonstrates the lack of caring the school administration would have for teachers who do more than just teach, who exceed the limits…. Whether it be gym, math, English, music, etc., the job of a teacher is supposed to be more than the classroom… Tara Harrigan really took that into consideration when she took that job here at Lawrence High… She is a teacher of morals, character and drive.

“It’s incredibly rare to find someone who has the capability of inspiring many students at a time. Instead of believing a select few will succeed and only giving them attention, she sees every single person – what they are capable of doing, what they are capable of achieving, not only in their four short years here at Lawrence High, but in life. And she shows that the moment that you meet her,” Aloyo added. “There’s not a single problem that she can face that she does not overcome. And that is so demonstrated in everything that she does, in the way she acts. Personally, that’s inspired me to overcome a lot of things that I’ve faced.”

While she complimented the girls on their presentation, school board President Laura Waters responded by reminding those at the meeting that the board, by law, cannot publicly discuss personnel matters involving individual employees.

“We’re not allowed to comment publicly about staff,” Water said. “We can’t talk about your wonderful softball coach. But we hear you and I think we all want the same thing.”

District officials said Harrigan’s base salary was $52,120 for the 2010-2011 school year, while her base salary for the current school year is $53,225.

A video featuring Harrigan discussing the 2012 softball season can be found here. The video was uploaded to YouTube by MercerSpace.com.

Audio from Monday’s school board meeting is available from the district website.

A copy of the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting can be found in the media box above.

 

The following is the complete text of the statement read to the  school board Monday night by varsity softball team member Catie MacDuff:

We ask that you listen to this letter. We understand that a decision to let go Coach Harrigan may be final, but we just thought that, at least, this board should understand our feelings and where we’re coming from, as students and as a team.  

To whom it may concern:

If you had asked me three days ago what it meant to be a teacher I would have given you the simplest and most accurate definition. A teacher is someone who points out the greatness and the potential to achieve inside of you. A teacher is someone who challenges you with new ideas and beliefs. A teacher is someone who day after day has the ability to change the way you will think for a life time. A teacher is someone who nourishes your dreams and pushes you to achieve more, to strive for greatness, and to never settle for ordinary because they know you have that little extra to become extraordinary. A teacher is Tara Harrigan.

If you had asked me three days ago what it meant to be a coach I would have given you the simplest and most accurate definition.  A coach is someone who never gives up on you. A coach is someone who can take a group of 12 girls, who have only ever been told that they can aspire to mediocrity, and inspire to believe in themselves, each other, and the game they love. A coach is someone who makes you realize that if you walk off the field knowing you did your best, then you have achieved something great that day. A coach is someone who becomes your confidant, your mentor, your teacher, and your role model. A coach is Tara Harrigan.

For 11 years, 12 girls have played softball together. We have played starting in the recreational leagues and now into our sixth year playing for the Lawrence school district. Never have we had a coach that parallels Tara Harrigan. Since the first day of our freshman season four years ago we have been treated with no respect. Our coaches did not believe in us, the school did not believe in us, and we did not believe in ourselves. You might wonder how a group of young girls could doubt themselves so quickly without even giving themselves a chance, but in honesty it is easy when there is no one to make you believe.  We have been yelled at, mocked, and disciplined for our lack of achievement. Our coaches – a new one every year – have always doubted our skill. Not once have we had a coach tell us that we were a team that mattered. Not once have we had a coach tell us our dreams matter. Not once have we had a coach tell us that we each have greatness in us. Not once have we had a coach pull the fortitude from our individual passions and combine them into one team prowess. Not once that is, until Tara Harrigan.

Coach Tara Harrigan is the greatest teacher we have ever had. She may be a gym teacher in theory but in practice she teaches us more than walleyball; she teaches us what it means to have character and integrity. She teaches us what it means to be patient, kind, and to always look for the person who needs a little encouragement to discover their greatness. In gym class you can often find her in the thick of the activity or of the game, not because she is playing, but because she is explaining, demonstrating, advising and motivating.

Harrigan is not like so many of the other teachers at Lawrence High School who do the bare minimum. Coach Harrigan never has her face buried in her clip board because it is so easy to just give bad grades instead of helping a student.  Tara Harrigan is a teacher because it is her calling, because it is the most important job in the world, because she has what it takes to make you want to be a better version of yourself. Being a teacher is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs there is. Tara Harrigan does not complain. She does not buckle from the weight of her challenge to help shape the youth of our world. Not once will you see her shy away from the challenges that each new day brings. To let go of Ms. Harrigan would be to let go of a teacher who not only does her job but does it well. To let go of Ms. Harrigan would be to send the message that if other teachers try to changes lives and aspire to become the epitome of what it means to be a teacher you will be struck down. Tara Harrigan is the best teacher Lawrence High School will ever have and without her the school, for many students, will no longer be the haven that she has created.

Coach Harrigan pushes the team to perform to the best of our abilities.  The Lawrence High School softball program has had losing seasons for a long time. But that all changed when Coach Harrigan led us to our first State Championship game in more than three years. We cannot begin to express all that Coach Harrigan means to not only the Lawrence softball program, but also to Lawrence High School.  Firing Tara Harrigan is the single worst thing you could do to our softball program.  The program has struggled because you cannot build an empire without first building its foundation. The foundation of our program is Coach Harrigan.  You cannot expect to have a winning and motivated team when every year they have to meet and accept a new coach only to see them leave yet again but not before that coach tears apart what little confidence they have had. Of every coach we have had at Lawrence High School, Tara Harrigan is without a doubt the best. We beseech you to heed our warning – letting go of Tara Harrigan will spell disaster for Lawrence High School softball. She is the hammer that forges the bond between girls. She took 12 players. She made 12 teammates, 12 friends, 12 sisters, and 12 believers. Believers in ourselves, in the game of softball, in each other, and in our abilities.

Thank you.

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