A simmering conflict between Litchfield School Board members – one former and one current – flared up again during the board’s meeting Feb 22, with each demanding an apology from the other.
When Dave Huhner, who left the board when his term ended last year, spoke during the open comment period at the beginning of the meeting, he accused the “most COVID-concerned School Board member” of not following district and state guidelines when it comes to attendance at sporting events.
Though he didn’t mention the board member by name during his monologue, it was quickly obvious that Huhner was referring to Greg Mathews. The two have sparred over COVID-19 guidelines almost since the pandemic began, with Mathews choosing to “follow the science” and Huhner opposing mask mandates, school closures and other guidelines from health care agencies, as well as executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz.
Mathews, Huhner said, recently attended a basketball game at Litchfield High School. He did this despite district communication to parents that they were limited to two tickets per athlete and that total game attendance was limited to 150 people, in accordance with state guidelines.
“Imagine how livid people were when grandparents were not allowed” at the game, but a board member with no connection to any of the players attended, Huhner said.
Regardless of the reason the board member was there, Huhner said, “that board member had no business there, no reason to be,” implying that Mathews’ attendance denied family members of players — including his son’s grandmother — an opportunity to be at the game.
Huhner added that he thought it “extremely disrespectful” and that he was not the only parent in attendance at the game who thought so.
He said what he perceived as a double standard was “embarrassing for our school district.”
Upon concluding his statement, Huhner left the meeting, followed by Scott Marquardt, a parent who said he was there in support of Huhner’s comments.
As they left, Mathews asked for the opportunity to respond, and upon receiving approval from board Chairman Darrin Anderson, he read from a letter he said he received from Huhner, which recounted much of what Huhner had just said.
Mathews then explained that in recent weeks he has been at the high school while his granddaughter has been involved in a play and swimming lessons. On one of the nights he was there, waiting for swimming lessons to end, he noticed a basketball game going on in the gym and also saw LHS Activities Director Justin Brown sitting near the door.
“I did not want to take tickets away from anybody,” he said, so Mathews asked Brown if it would be OK, and the activities director approved. Mathews said he had a mask on and sat “at least 30 feet from the nearest spectators.”
He went on to say that attendance at the game – a “C squad” contest for ninth-graders — was sparsely attended, with far fewer than the permitted 150 people in attendance.
Mathews also asked Superintendent Beckie Simenson about the rules for ticket allotment for players’ families. She explained that a letter sent to parents asked ticket requests be limited to two per player, but that if more were needed, they could make an additional request and if not all tickets had been requested, the family could get more.
Mathews then asked if Simenson knew how many times Huhner had called to ask for additional tickets.
“I have the answer,” he said. “Not once.”
Additional tickets would have been available to Huhner had he requested them, Mathews said, but he did not ask for any more.
“If his mother was unable to go to these games (it was) not the fault of the school district,” Mathews said. “You talk about hypocrisy. As far as taking responsibility … it should be the other way around. Mr. Huhner owes an apology to the school district for implying the tickets were not available.”
School Board Chairman Darrin Anderson ended the discussion by saying he thought “the issue has been addressed. I, myself, would consider this issue resolved.”