Lincoln HS football coach steps down due to player safety concerns

May 9, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: 10:37 am

Lincoln High School’s football head coach Aaron Hart resigned from the job last Friday after thre...

Lincoln High School’s football head coach Aaron Hart resigned from the job last Friday after three years, claiming player safety concerns as the primary reason. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln High School)

(Photo courtesy of Lincoln High School)

Lincoln High School’s head football coach Aaron Hart resigned from the job last Friday after three years, citing player safety concerns as the primary reason.

After finishing in a three-way tie for first place last season in the Metro’s Sound Division with a 6-3 overall record, the school is being promoted to the Mountain Division, where it would face off against several private-school programs, including O’Dea and Eastside Catholic.

“Lincoln to date has never had anybody sign an athletic scholarship for football,” Hart told Jack Stine and Spike O’Neill in KIRO Middays. “And the level that these guys are at, I’ll use O’Dea as an example, they have the No. 3 running back in the nation and the No. 5 interior offensive lineman in the nation. So it’s a completely different level of play. When these guys move on, they’re going to play for Ohio State and USC and different teams. And we don’t have anything like that. Wins and losses are wins and losses, but it’s just Roosevelt last year, who was very similar to our program in a lot of ways, went winless, but it’s not that they went winless. They got beat up and demoralized. And it wasn’t a good look. And it wasn’t due to coaching. I think that they did a decent job. It’s just how they had to go about it.

“I could cry right now talking about it,” Hart continued. “But ultimately, what tipped the scale is I have a son that plays for me, and he’s graduating this year, and I just honestly wouldn’t want him to play through that schedule.”

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Seattle’s Roosevelt High School finished last in the Mountain Division with an 0-10 overall record, and will now move down to the Sound Division, replacing Lincoln.

“So basically, he wants to quit. He’s quitting on his team because they’re going to be playing higher competition,” Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show, said on KIRO Newsradio in response to the announcement. “So this whole discussion of public and private and all of those things, again, there are public schools that are in that division as well. And by the way, since we’re talking Garfield — Garfield was the state champion in [men’s and women’s] basketball this year.”

Gee Scott’s son, Gee Scott Jr., attended Eastside Catholic and played football there before joining Ohio State University as a tight end.

Private school athletic programs are diverse, with enrollment not based on geographic location. Public schools have to abide by strict districting rules for which students can attend which schools, something private schools aren’t limited by.

Private school athletic programs also have a history of seeking and hiring high-profile coaches who can occupy part-time employee roles just for a season, which allows them not to have to fill a teaching requirement. Some private schools even follow a block schedule, mirroring college schedules, where student-athletes can pace their courses over several days instead of visiting every class in one day — allowing breaks in their schedules for tutoring, testing, and homework, which in turn, leaves the student to devote more time to athletics.

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“I think the coach makes some good points about how unfair the system is,” Ursula Reutin, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show, explained. “This isn’t something new to this year. I heard it even before my kids were in high school. I think the system is unfair, but I don’t think quitting is the answer, because now his players will still have to compete in that Mountain Division, but they will have to do so with a new coach, which puts them at an even further disadvantage.

“I do think that there’s a safety risk, and that’s what [Hart] was bringing up,” Ursula continued. “Do I think it’s all about safety? No. But I think there is something to be said about if you’re constantly playing these teams, where you’ve got Division 1 level players, huge players versus your more typical high school athlete.”

Programs at the high school level are even in the midst of creating “superteams,” something many states across the country are looking at preventing, including new rules that would restrict transfers from playing in the postseason for one year, even though they could compete in the regular season.

“If you’re a private school that can recruit within a 50-mile radius, instead of owning your district’s borders, and you can offer material compensation in the form of scholarships, you do have a recruiting advantage over a public school, even if the public school also tries to get students in the door,” Andrew Lanier, producer of The Gee and Ursula Show, said.

“What sport are we talking about? Are we talking about basketball or football because if we wanted to talk about basketball, let’s have a discussion on who’s better in basketball. Is it private or public?” Gee asked in response.

“I’ll let you guys know, it’s public. Public high school basketball has been winning state championships here in the state of Washington a lot. O’Dea won it three, four years ago when they had Paolo Banchero in his freshman year, but right now, Garfield has been winning a lot of basketball. Why? Because athletes and parents literally go to where they want to go when it comes to playing sports.”

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A few current Lincoln High School football players reached out to The Gee and Ursula Show to provide their thoughts on the situation at hand.

“Coach Hart decided to step down in protest of the two-tier system in hopes that the district would adopt the alternative schedule that Lincoln’s Athletic Director, Brent Brakke, created and proposed to Monte Kohler, the representative for Metro Football and head coach for O’Dea’s football team,” Jon Mathis, a Lincoln High football player and team leader, wrote in an email. “This alternative schedule provides more equity and safety for SPS students where private schools who recruit have a clear and significant advantage over public schools. Coach Hart did not step down easily, it’s clear that Coach Hart loves this team and he is committed to making us better people and better football players.”

Last year, for the 2022 season, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) reshuffled Metro Football’s long-standing three-division system (Mountain, Sound, and Valley) into a two-division system, a decision approved by Kohler among others as the governing body for the league. Parents have cited this decision as dangerous, claiming it brought huge inequities and lopsided games, while increasing the chances for injuries.

“Monte Kohler made decisions in a vacuum without consulting coaches and athletic directors,” Kelsey Camp, an SPS parent, wrote in an email. “This impartial practice needs to stop!”

In addition to his role as Metro Football’s representative, Kohler has been the football coach and athletic director for O’Dea High School for 32 years, coaching a sterling overall record of 324-53 during that span.

“I wanted to build a community program and bring something to our kids with leadership and community service, and this is just tears it away,” Hart said. “I just felt like somebody needed to at least make sure this was on people’s radar.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Lincoln HS football coach steps down due to player safety concerns