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Negaunee board votes to rehire Dan Waterman

Varsity boys basketball coach Dan Waterman reacts after hearing from the Negaunee school board that he was being rehired to his position on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

NEGAUNEE — The atmosphere inside the Negaunee High School library was both tense and somber as area residents gathered in support of former Miners head boys basketball coach Dan Waterman at the Negaunee school board meeting Monday night.

Last week in what was a controversial decision, Waterman was let go as coach. This week, about 50 people came to the board meeting in a plea to rehire him.

Fourteen people came before the board to speak about how much Waterman meant to them as players, students and parents. Some of them were visibly nervous standing in front of the crowd, but once up there, spoke with passion about their views that Waterman deserved his job back.

After listening to these speakers, the board met in closed session with Waterman before bringing the crowd back into the meeting to announce their decision — he was brought back to his former position.

The board voted unanimously that Waterman could return to the bench, leading to applause from the audience and a breath of relief from Waterman.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” Waterman said after the meeting. “I place a very high priority on this job. My family moved to Negaunee 10 years ago because this was where we wanted our kids to be and the opportunity to coach my kids was a huge factor.

“For (area residents) to show up the way they did tonight, it leaves me choked up and speechless. Former players, colleagues, parents, young players in the program and community members, I can’t thank them for their support enough.

“What it’s meant to my wife and kids, as well, it’s kind of like a salve on a wound and it’s helped heal me a little bit. I’m thrilled that I get another chance and an opportunity to continue to lead this program.”

Some of those who supported Waterman were former players, whether physically present at the meeting or in written form.

Former Miner Ben Luke wrote a heartfelt letter to the board that was read and presented by his parents, Matt and Leslie Luke.

Other former players were from Waterman’s teams in Munising. Before coming to Negaunee in 2014, Waterman led the Mustangs to their first district tournament title in 57 years.

One former player, Joey Richardson, said that Waterman once said that he would be the “hardest working coach we’ve ever could’ve had and that we’re ever going to see.”

Waterman, who spent the majority of time during those testimonials with his head facing downward, said it meant a lot to him that his players would support him well after he had left town.

“I had to put my head down because I was afraid I was going to break down and cry, to be honest,” he said. “I knew the bond with those guys was tight.

“We did something down in Munising that hadn’t been done in 57 years in winning a district. To see it carry beyond the court, that’s the impact you always want to have as a coach and you hope that you’re having (that), but you’re never really quite sure.

“Sometimes you drift apart and you lose touch, and to see those guys come out tonight, and not only that, but some of the letters that I got, it means a tremendous amount to me and I’ll never forget it and I’ll love those guys forever.”

Perhaps the most meaningful message came from Waterman’s son Jason, who was an Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters All-U.P. Class A-B-C Second Team honoree this past season. The younger Waterman, a sophomore at Negaunee High School, quietly went before the board and said how he’s wanted for years to play for his dad.

“I dreamt my whole life to play for my dad,” he said. “I’ve seen him coach every other kid in the county and it’s been a lifelong dream. He makes me want to give my heart and my soul to my team because he gives his heart and soul for us.”

The perceived reason why Waterman was let go as coach was due to his “sideline antics” and he talked about how he is planning on dealing with that going forward.

“There are some things about my coaching style that I would like to change and modify a little bit,” Dan Waterman said. “That’s one of the things that we discussed and we’d come to an agreement on some things. So we’re going to move forward together and I’m really excited about the opportunity.”

Waterman is so excited that he’s already planning for next basketball season, even though it’s at least a good six months away, but now that he has his job back, he’s re-energized again.

“I’m very excited for next year,” he said with a big grin on his face. “I’m already plotting and planning on how best to put our kids in a position to be successful.”

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