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Tom Mix and Helmut Schmidt, Forum staff writers, Published November 18 2013

Support grows for ousted longtime West Fargo coach

WEST FARGO – The ouster of a longtime assistant football and basketball coach at West Fargo High School has prompted an outpouring of support for him, including an online petition signed by nearly 1,000 people and aimed at the School Board to get him reinstated as coach.

Backing for Jim Jonas also includes a Justice for Jonas Facebook page with more than 3,575 members and a #FreeJonas group on Twitter.

As of Monday, school officials said Jonas had not resigned from his coaching positions despite being told to do so by Nov. 12 or he would be fired from those positions. School officials said late last week they were giving him more time to decide.

Jonas, an often-fiery and emotional figure on the sidelines for Packer football and basketball the past 23 years, declined to comment on his situation when contacted by The Forum.

By late Monday, more than 980 people had signed the Justice for Jonas petition on change.org.

The petition reads:

“This petition will be brought in front of the West Fargo School Board. Please sign to show your support for our long time beloved coach. With the utmost respect for Jonas and Packer Pride, we want answers, and our coach back.”

The school board meets next Monday.

A district employee said Monday afternoon that one person, Fargo businessman Brent Tehven, was signed up to address the board in support of Jonas.

West Fargo High School Activities Director Curt Jones said Monday that he could not comment on whether formal complaints had been filed against Jonas, or if Jonas had handed in his resignation.

Robin Hill, the district’s human resources director, said she had not seen a resignation from Jonas.

Hill declined to discuss whether Jonas had been given specific reasons for being asked to resign his coaching posts.

“We’re unable to comment about personnel matters. They are of a confidential nature,” Hill said.

In the Nov. 8 letter outlining the district’s ultimatum, Jones wrote Jonas “that you will not be issued future contracts for the positions of assistant football coach and assistant basketball coach at West Fargo High School.

“You will be given the opportunity to resign. If I do not receive a letter of resignation by Tuesday, November 12, 2013, it will be documented that you were terminated from these two coaching positions.

“As Activities Director at West Fargo High School and as instructor of the NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching Class, it is my duty to protect the integrity and image of all West Fargo High School Co-curricular programs and all student participants within each program. I would be remiss in executing my responsibility to further allow you, Mr. Jonas, to continue to coach at our school in these two sports.

“Furthermore, if you do not meet certain responsibilities expected of you by our West Fargo High School administrative team, you will not be issued a contract as an assistant Track & Field coach this spring.”

After informing Jonas that his contracts for football and basketball would not be renewed, Jones said he then informed West Fargo varsity football coach Jay Gibson and varsity boys basketball coach Greg Limke of the decision.

When asked last Thursday if Limke and Gibson agreed with the decision, Jones said he couldn’t comment because it was a district personnel matter.

The letter was signed by Jones and High School Principal Jennifer Fremstad, with a notation that it had been given to Jonas on Nov. 8, a week after West Fargo’s football season concluded.

Jones said Thursday that Jonas had been given an unspecified extension to hand in his resignation.

Superintendent David Flowers said Monday that Jonas has not yet been given the list of responsibilities he’ll need to keep his track and field coaching job.

Flowers said he will meet with Hill and other administrators to discuss those responsibilities.

This is not new territory for Jonas.

In May 1995, Jonas was released as an assistant boys basketball coach, documents in his personnel file show.

On Feb. 3, 1995, in a junior varsity game at West Fargo against Grand Forks Central High School, he had a run-in with a game official over a foul call.

Before the incident ended, Jonas ended up with two technical fouls and was ejected from the game, then continued to confront the official using profanity, documents indicate.

He earned a three-game suspension, but a note says Jonas did not sign and return the original document acknowledging the decision.

On May 10, 1995, Jones informed Jonas that he would not be given a contract to coach basketball in the school district due to:

• Poor bench decorum.

• Lack of effort to work with high school administrators. “It became more and more clear that Jim could not be trusted to improve himself,” Jones wrote.

• No evidence to either administration or the head coach that Jonas would change his bench decorum.

• Lack of professionalism. “Jim’s constant use of foul language and lack of diplomacy in trying to work out problems with administration are not exemplary of a professional educator,” Jones wrote.

Jonas did not return to the sidelines for Packers basketball for seven years.

He was hired as an assistant boys basketball coach at West Fargo High for the 2002-03 season and had coached in an assistant role for football, basketball and track and field since. Jonas is a teacher in the district as well.

More recently, Jonas had a written reprimand placed in his file on March 19, 2013, by High School Assistant Principal Dan Holder for disrespect in conversations with Assistant Principal Adam Gehlhar and Holder during professional development in October 2012, and to Holder during a professional development discussion on Common Core standards on Jan. 21.

“I am very disappointed in the disrespect Jim Jonas showed for the district administration that organized the activities as well as disrespect that was shown to me,” Holder wrote.

Tehven, general manager of Spotlight Media in Fargo, said he wants to be sure Jonas gets answers about why he was released.

“He’s just done so much for the high school in general,” Tehven said. “He’s one of the most caring individuals I have ever seen. To be given no real reason, I think he deserves more respect for that.”

Tehven, who graduated from West Fargo High in 2000, said he played on two state championship football teams and was captain of the basketball team his senior year.

“He’ll call you out if you do something wrong, but he’ll build you back up,” Tehven said, who added that Jonas’ language could get salty.

“Does he always go about things in the most tactful way? That’s just Jim,” Tehven said.

“He’s not the most tactful human being,” but he’s trying to prepare people for life at the end of high school, Tehven said. “That’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”

Jonas’ love of football is renowned in West Fargo.

That love even had him taking his marriage vows to Denise Wolf on the 50-yard-line of the West Fargo High School football field in June 2010.

Denise Jonas is now the principal of West Fargo’s Liberty Middle School.

The support for Jonas online is considerable.

“I feel deeply saddened for Jim and his family to have to go through this entire ordeal and hope that somehow this situation can be resolved in a way that is in the best interest of Jim, as well as what appears to be the vast majority of WFHS students and parents,” posted Juel Thibedeau on the Justice for Jonas Facebook page. “Together, hopefully we can help correct this injustice.”

Praise also flowed for Jonas on Twitter.

“This man is probably the most inspiring person I know,” Hannah Slagle wrote.

“Jonas yelling at you, that’s his way of pushing you to try your hardest and do your best because he knew you could be better,” Tanisha Wilson wrote.

The most recent coaching evaluation that Jones had of Jonas was for the 2012-13 boys basketball season. The document was a very positive review of Jonas’ coaching, with Jonas scoring highly in all areas.

West Fargo High School assistant coaches are evaluated by the head coaches of their respective sports after the end of each season.

That review is handed in to Jones, who determines whether it is satisfactory, which then determines if the contract of the assistant coach will be renewed.

If satisfactory, the evaluations are terminated and do not appear in the coach’s personnel file. Any incident reports made against any coach would show up in the personnel file and are handled on an individual basis, Jones said.

Starting this fall, annual evaluations of assistant coaches will be directed to the district offices, Jones said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562

Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf contributed to this article