IOWA CITY – A former Iowa Hawkeye football player and son of Iowa City High School’s football coach has been reinstated as a coach after being suspended for leaving a student on school grounds with a BB gun.
Michael Sabers was suspended from his duties last fall following an incident that involved a student having a gun at South East Junior High in Iowa City.
Sabers, who is not a teacher, coached football, basketball and track at South East and served as a strength and conditioning coach at City High. He also was a reserve tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes from 2004-08.
Sabers appealed his suspension to the school board, which voted 5-1 Tuesday night to reinstate him and reverse the decision of district administrators.
He testified before the board that on Sept. 28 he made two car trips to take some of his football players from South East to City High for a football game. As he prepared to take the second group, the students told him another student at school had a cap gun. Sabers approached the student, who briefly lifted up his shirt and revealed a gun in his waistband.
Sabers said that he only saw the gun’s handle and that it looked plastic. He said he told the student to go home and left.
Sabers said he was “kicking myself” on the short drive to City, wondering if he should have taken the gun. He told his father, City High football coach Dan Sabers, what happened. The elder Sabers told him to contact the South East Junior High principal after the game.
Michael Sabers said former City High teacher, coach and athletic director Larry Brown gave him the same advice, which he followed.
Sabers was allowed to coach the next week and eventually spoke with Chace Ramey, the district’s chief human resources officer. Sabers was suspended Oct .9.
Ramey testified that Sabers saw the weapon, did not take it, left the student on school grounds and did not tell anyone for several hours. Ramey said it was a high-powered BB gun considered a dangerous weapon under district policy.
He also said that between Sabers’ first and second trips taking students to City High, the student with the gun put the weapon to the head of another student.
The district has a zero-tolerance policy on guns, and three students were expelled over their dealings with the same gun. The gun was at the school at times before Sept. 28. Peter Paschler, an attorney for the district, told the board that there should not be a double standard between how students and staff are treated in such situations.
Dan Sabers, Brown, and Bill Mitchell, a teacher and South East Junior High football coach, all testified that they had never received any training on what to do in a situation like Michael Sabers’.
“I was actually shocked when I heard he was suspended,” Brown said.
Murley later in the fall modified the suspension to allow Sabers to continue his duties at City High but suspended him from South East Junior High for two years instead of one so that the current seventh-graders were gone when he returned.
In December, Sabers was told he could not be at City High pending the hearing before the school board.
Board member Tuyet Dorau said Sabers was acting on the directive of his superior, Dan Sabers, in how he reported the matter and should not be punished for that. She and other board members also said the district failed to adequately train Michael Sabers.
McGinness, who cast the dissenting vote, said his problem was that Michael Sabers he did not call police immediately upon seeing the gun. McGinness also said he had a hard time believing someone would think the gun, which was shown at the hearing, was not real.
All of the parties agreed Sabers was a good coach who was great with students. Sabers said he just want to be allowed to work with kids again, particularly ones from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Being away from those kids, and all kids, is very tough,” he said.