By Terry Dean
The District 200 Board of Education on April 25 voted to award its athletic training contract to the school's current longtime vendor, Oak Brook-based Athletico.
The 5-2 vote actually came with little surprise as a majority of the members already verbally committed to Athletico during their finance committee meeting a week ago. Terry Finnegan, John Phelan, Amy McCormack, Dietra Millard and Valerie Fisher voted for Athletico over Pennsylvania-based NovaCare, which provides athletic trainers to institutions across the country. D200 members Ralph Lee and Sharon Patchak-Layman voted against the firm.
At last Tuesday's finance meeting, about a dozen people — including OPRF coaches and parents of student athletes — spoke out in support of retaining Athletico, namely the firm's two trainers, Shannon Wyatt and Dave Heidloff. Both have been with Oak Park and River Forest High School for seven years. The board members who voted for Athletico were also adamant and enthusiastic about keeping the two trainers. Phelan and McCormack, each with student athletes at the high school, argued against going with the lower-bidding NovaCare.
In his remarks during the vote, Lee noted that much of the support for Athletico was because of the strong feelings people have about Wyatt and Heidloff. Lee said it's been the board's practice not to base decisions about which vendors to hire or retain based on "whether or not we love the people that we're hiring." His fellow members acknowledged that point but argued that this was one case where a relationship with a vendor trumped finances.
Patchak-Layman said she wouldn't vote for either company, maintaining instead that the school should hire its own trainers instead of contracting out for the service. McCormack and other members countered, saying that such a move would be extremely expensive, more expensive than the current situation. Patchak-Layman also addressed the decision to go with Athletico even though it wasn't the lowest bidder. OPRF had another beloved, longtime athletic training vendor before hiring Athletico years ago, Patchak-Layman said.
At that time, Athletico was chosen after offering a lower contract bid. McCormack replied that the school shouldn't take the chance of making another switch that might not work out this time around.
The contract approved last week with Athletico runs three years for roughly $50,000 annually.