SWANTON - Ryan Carter was cleaning up his garage one recent day, getting ready to pound a “For Sale” sign into the yard, when he became aware of a woman retreating from his front door.
“Oh, hi,” she said. “Are you a registered voter?”
“Yes,” Carter replied.
“Great. I just left some election information,” she said.
Carter walked around to retrieve it and gave it a quick glance. It was from the “no-vote” committee opposed to the levy for Swanton s public schools.
“I sort of chased after her down the street,” Carter recalled last week. “I told her, You can have this back. Because of your no vote I lost my teaching position. ”
It has been a nightmarish six months for the boys basketball coach at Swanton High.
Carter came to Swanton three years ago to be an assistant basketball and football coach. He became the head basketball coach before the 2002-03 season. About a week later, he and his fiancee, Brandi Whittaker, saddled up a mortgage, bought a house and put down roots.
“This was going to be our home,” he said.
And then a third straight operating-levy failure last November resulted in Carter s job as a middle school science teacher being one of 20 such positions cut or reduced in status by the board of education.
“We re losing some of our best and brightest,” said superintendent Kevin McQuade, himself a former Swanton boys basketball coach.
Teaching positions weren t the only thing on the cutting board after last November s vote. So were athletics and most other extracurricular activities.
A group of citizens headed by local businessman Bill Pilliod rode to the rescue. More than 100 people donated some $110,000 in a matter of five days to cover the cost of sports, marching band, choir, yearbook, prom and numerous other activities.
“It made me awfully proud to live out here,” Pilliod said of his community, located just west of Toledo Express Airport. “But it was a one-time deal. I called in all my markers. We have to have voter support now to continue.”
As a result, Swanton s schools go to the polls again tomorrow, this time seeking revenue through an income tax. Pilliod said he is “very optimistic,” but the anti-levy block is large and organized and not without legitimate concerns.
Swanton is like many so-called bedroom communities, small towns that industry has abandoned through the years, leaving property owners to bear the brunt of a tax burden to keep schools healthy.
Swanton has a beautiful new high school on the north edge of town that opened last spring. But the ability to build a school and the ability to operate it come from two distinct pools of money. Swanton is a “no” vote away from being placed on fiscal emergency status - a list of schools that is growing at an alarming rate - by the state of Ohio.
Ryan Carter has faced fiscal emergency status for a while now. He has been living on unemployment benefits as well as his coaching stipend and what Brandi brings home from her job at Lucas County Children s Services.
“Some people counseled me to give up the coaching job and move on,” Carter said. “But I thought I should stick it out for the kids. They ve had five head coaches here in the last seven seasons. They need some stability. It s the only chance they have to turn it around.”
Alas, there has been no quick fix. The Bulldogs were 2-19 in Carter s first season and, at 0-20, they are the only team in the metro area set to enter sectional tournament action this week with a winless mark. To add insult to injury, the luck of the draw slotted Swanton directly into a sectional-title game against top-seeded Evergreen, a team that already has beaten the Bulldogs twice this season.
Swanton s team is young and offensively challenged while playing in the basketball-rich Northwest Ohio Athletic League. The Bulldogs shoot 31 per cent from the field - including 18 per cent from 3-point range - and 57 per cent from the free-throw line. They average 33 points per game.
When the 6-6 Carter was a senior at Clyde High, where his teams advanced to state championship games in football and basketball, he scored 620 points. Swanton will barely surpass that total as a team this year.
“It has been frustrating, sure,” said Carter, 27. “But we re trying to take baby steps. We approach it that if we practice better today, we ll play better tomorrow. I prepare hard and go into every game thinking we can win. I ll go into the Evergreen game thinking the same thing. Coaching is all I ve ever wanted to do, and it s not in my nature to quit. I m not going to let the kids quit either.”
Maybe Carter gets some of that never-say-die attitude from his contact with Bob Fisher. The latter is one of those teachers who retire but, thankfully, never disappear.
Fisher coached boys basketball at Swanton for 18 years, had a wonderful string of success during the late 1970s and 80s, and is one of the winningest coaches in school history. But he always reminds Carter that his first team sputtered to a 1-18 record.
“Ryan s a great guy and a good coach,” said Fisher, who stays involved as athletic director at Swanton Middle School.
“He works his tail off and so do his players. We re just in one of those down cycles, talent-wise, right now. It s a shame what he s had to go through.”
It will be a bigger shame what Swanton s schools and their programs go through should the voters again turn a cold shoulder tomorrow.
It should be mentioned that Carter sat down for a recent interview begrudgingly because, as he put it, “People are going to think I m begging for my job, and I don t want it to come across that way. In fact, even if the levy passes I don t think I m far enough up the seniority list to get called back.
“Either way, I ll find a job and I ll be all right. It s the kids who only have four years, and that s a short time.
“I guess the opposition out here is going after the board and administrators, but that isn t who is being affected. That would be the kids.”