Coaching upheaval doesn’t affect ’Cats in SWL opener

Relief pitcher Erika Chirdon against GJ at MSC



Savannah Byers, the interim Head Coach for Fruita SB, coaches at Third base



Talk about your roller-coaster day for the Fruita Monument High School softball team.

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the school had relieved Wildcats head coach Billy Johnson and one of his assistants, Kevin Chirdon, of their coaching duties and selected another assistant, Tracy Burke, as the interim head coach.

The reason for their dismissal was not revealed. When contacted by The Daily Sentinel, School District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said it was a personnel matter and could not be discussed.

Johnson and Chirdon are both teachers in School District 51 and the move does not affect their teaching positions.

By the end of Tuesday night’s game with Grand Junction, yet another assistant coach, Savannah Byers, had taken over the head coaching reins.

Amid all the upheaval, the Wildcats scored the last five runs of the game against the Tigers to open their Southwestern League season with a 5-1 victory at Bergman Field.

Byers spoke to the team before the game and offered some simple advice.

“This is opening day,” Byers told her team of the new beginning. “I just told them we’ve got to keep our heads in the game.”

Johnson was in his second stint as Fruita Monument head softball coach. He was first hired to coach the team for the 1998 season and coached through the fall of 2001.

He assumed the head coaching duties again in 2004 when, as an assistant coach, he replaced Jay Gonyeau in midseason.

In 2005, Johnson was put on administrative leave when it was alleged he had sent inappropriate e-mails to a student. He was exonerated of those charges, however, when a student admitted to assuming Johnson’s identity off a MySpace.com page. Johnson was reinstated as coach and teacher less than a month into the season.

The school made the coaching change in mid-afternoon Tuesday and informed the assistant coaches, who were headed to Bergman Field for the junior varsity game.

At that point, Burke had been selected to serve as head coach. After discussion among the coaching staff of Burke, Byers, Gary Ward and Terry Pacheco, the four decided to allow Byers to take the head-coaching duties.

A 2002 Fruita Monument graduate who played softball for Johnson, Byers was in her second season as a Wildcats’ assistant coach. She is Johnson’s step-niece.

“I liked the way Johnson’s strategy was,” Byers said. “I like the way he coaches.”

Consequently, she’s decided not to change much with the team.

“I like the way the girls are jelling right now,” Byers said.

It took a while for them to come together on Tuesday. Elena Arrieta, the starting pitcher for Grand Junction (6-2, 0-1 SWL) had the Wildcats handcuffed through the first two innings.

Fruita (5-4, 1-0) took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning on Kiffany Burbridge’s RBI single to score Shelby Kubick.

The Wildcats opened it up in the fifth, scoring three runs on three hits and, most importantly, taking advantage of three uncharacteristic Tiger errors.

Krystina Pacheco got the victory, but Erika Chirdon came on in relief in the fourth inning and gave up no runs on no hits, striking out two and walking two.

Kubick, who had three of the Wildcats’ nine hits, said the team spent the pregame keeping each other mentally pumped up.

“We had to keep in each other’s heads,” Kubick said of the day’s events. “We did a nice job of keeping it together.”

“We still have a great coaching staff. We’re a family.”


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