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A new eighth-grade boys basketball coach has been hired amid controversy at Fegely Middle School in Portage Township, pending School Board approval.

Last week, Superintendent Amanda Alaniz hired Matt Martinez, a longtime varsity assistant familiar with Portage programs, after a disagreement led to the departure of the team's previous coach, Mike Kobe, said attorney Ken Elwood, speaking on behalf of the district.

Martinez coached practice last Friday and led the team Monday in the eighth-graders' game against Willowcreek Middle School at Fegely.

While some parents at the school were unhappy with the coaching change, at least one parent who spoke to a Times reporter during Monday's game agreed with it.

Parent Don Caitlin said he was going to give Martinez a chance.

"I'm kinda happy about it," Caitlin said of the change in coaches. "He (Martinez) doesn't have a son on the team and he'll be unbiased."

"It is a clean slate and he'll give everyone a chance and give everyone equal time on the court," said Caitlin, adding he knows Martinez, having gone to school with him.

"The team is going to be in good hands," he said.

Parent Christi Harrop-Haywood said she was upset with the administration holding back the team regarding scoring points.

"How do you tell these kids that winning is bad? In the classroom, do you tell these kids to stop making straight A's so the other kids can catch up with them?" asked Harrop-Haywood, adding she isn't sure what happened with Kobe.

"He was a good coach," she said, adding he had coached one of her older sons as well and she's known him for quite a while.

She also wondered if it was a matter of race as most of the members of the Fegely team are African-American and many of the teams they played were predominantly white. Her son is mixed.

Other parents, who didn't want their names used, agreed with Harrop-Haywood and disagreed with the change in philosophy of what they feel is holding team members back from their potential.

Elwood said Alaniz met with parents last week to discuss the coaching change. He said Dan Filla will stay on as the eighth-grade team's assistant coach.

Kobe's departure from the team comes amid controversy as the former coach disputes the nature of his departure.

Kobe claimed he was asked to resign after a dispute with the school's athletic director in a Nov. 20 game against St. Paul Catholic School. Kobe said he was approached in the locker room at halftime by Fegely Middle School Athletic Director Joe Bachan and accused of unfairly running up the game's score even after putting in his B-team players. Several days later, Kobe said, the school's assistant principal emailed him asking for a formal letter of resignation.

"Fegely boys basketball coach Mike Kobe provided a verbal resignation from his position during halftime of the Nov. 20 game," the district said in a statement Nov. 27. "At that time, our administrative team accepted his resignation, Mr. Kobe departed the building, and assistant coach Dan Filla stepped in to coach the team for the remainder of the game."

Kobe said he did leave the game at halftime Nov. 20, but that he did not quit. In a heated exchange days after the St. Paul game, Kobe challenged school administrators in front of team parents, asking why the school wanted to force his resignation.

The district stands by its Nov. 27 statement, Elwood said. He declined to discuss whether the district has since received a written resignation from Kobe.

Elwood said that throughout this process, the district's emphasis has been finding the right fit for the eighth-grade team. The school's principal and superintendent have been consulting with Portage High School varsity head coach Rick Snodgrass along the way.

"We're trying to not interrupt the kids' season, give them the best coaching we can and make them feel a part of our overall program," Elwood said.

The Portage Township School Board will meet next on Dec. 10. Elwood said the board will vote on Martinez's final approval as head coach of the eighth-grade team.

Times staff writer Joyce Russell contributed to this report. 

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