June 4, 2011 in Washington Voices

Getting proper recognition

Sign notes many Liberty students’ varied honors
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Retired math teacher Jim Coulter, left, fabricator Ron Cockle, center, and auto body painter Alan Snell, right, stand in front of the newly refurbished sign in front of Liberty High School Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Coulter helped get the sign rebuilt and improved because of his desire to see recognition for acheivements outside of sports. Welder Ron Cockle and auto body painter Alan Snell worked on the sign.
(Full-size photo)

It’s a small-town high school tradition that has really bothered retired teacher Jim Coulter for years.

Schools often announce their championship sports teams with signs. The football or basketball teams that win state championships are announced with pride.

“It’s an advertisement for our school district,” Coulter said.

But there are so many more students who achieve greatness during their time at high school who aren’t athletes.

Coulter noticed this back in 1986 in the Liberty School District when he was a math teacher at the middle school. The high school boys basketball team won the state championship and it went up on the school sign. The very next year, the Future Farmers of America team came in first place at the national championship. There was no mention of the team on the sign.

“They work just as hard as the athletes do,” Coulter said.

When a windstorm knocked Liberty’s sign down a few years ago, Coulter started to rally for a change.

Superintendent Bill Motsenbocker agreed and the new sign was paid for out of the school’s budget.

A new sign was erected in front of Liberty High School last year, with large wings off the side to make room for band kids, FFA students, sportsmanship awards and other academic achievements.

Built by former school board member Ron Cockle and painted by local auto-body shop owner Alan Snell, the sign includes the boys basketball championship from 1986, the marching band’s nine-year, first-place run at the Lilac parade from 1993 to 2001, the academic championship of the girls track team in 2008 and other athletic teams’ academic achievements.

The Future Farmers of America team has a lot of plaques on the sign. Over the last 30 years, Liberty’s FFA team has brought home plenty of hardware, from a state championship in land judging in 1981 to the 2008 team’s third place at nationals in agricultural issues. Liberty has also won four sportsmanship awards from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, an award important to Coulter.

“Athletics to me is how you play the game,” Coulter said.

Coulter said that he is very proud of the accomplishments of Liberty athletes.

“I am not putting down the athletic championships,” he said. He knows how hard the athletes work. He just wants to include everyone.

He is also proud of the unsung students who don’t necessarily receive a lot of attention for their achievements.

The details on the sign are impressive. The sign is mostly made out of a metal screen to accommodate the strong winds that blow through Spangle.

“I fabricated it in the shop,” Cockle said. “It only took us a couple of days.”

The sign was put into place last May and was dedicated to Coulter, the teacher who fought to honor all students. Although he retired after 34 years last year, those students still remember him when he visits Liberty, waving and yelling for his attention from the bus as it drives by him in the parking lot.

He hopes the sign will become a rallying point around the school that sends a message to Liberty’s students.

“I hope it would encourage them to be their best.”

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