Despite days of national headlines, the Corbett Middle School football team is moving ahead with plans to hold its awards dinner at an Oregon Hooters on Saturday. And their coach, who was criticized by the school district, has refused to back down from the location choice.
But scrutiny from outsiders over the party at a restaurant known for its scantily clad waitresses — and criticized for objectifying women — has the rural town of 4,000 people about 20 miles east of Portland embarrassed and peeved.
"You hear my laughter? It’s all I can do at this point," said Michelle Rolens, whose 12-year-old son plays on the team. "We have such bigger fish to fry."
Like the school construction bond measure that failed in Tuesday's election, she said.
Some parents are boycotting the celebration.
"The general mood is just that that’s probably not quite the right event for a school athletic team ... be it high school or middle school," said Eric Stevens, former president of the Corbett Booster Club.
"It’s a complete embarrassment to the community," said Liz Conners, a member of the Corbett Youth Football Board, adding that she would allow her son on the high school football team to attend an event at Hooters. "The fact that it’s all over the Internet, Fox News, it’s on the radio. Clearly, it’s not about the kids anymore."
The tiny town near the picturesque Columbia River Gorge became the focus of jokes on the Internet and on news outlets across the nation at the thought of adolescent boys partying at a restaurant known for buxom women.
Yet many parents don't see the event that way. They simply want to be with their children at a cherished American ritual: the end-of season sports party for a team with a 6-2 record, the best in recent memory.
Mike Paintner, whose 13-year-old son is a seventh-grader on the team, said coach Randall Burbach had been great with the children and the issue had been blown "way out of proportion."
"From the kids standpoint, they just want to celebrate their year. They want to see each other, they want to look at all the film from the games," he said. "That’s all my son is looking for. He could care less where it’s at. All he’s caring about is watching himself score a touchdown."
Corbett School Board Chairman Charlie O'Neil declined to take a stand on the issue, saying he needed to remain neutral in case it came before the board.
District athletic director J.P. Soulagnet said he "cannot further support" the coach after he refused to move the location.
Burbach said if he could do it again, he wouldn’t change a thing. After all, he said, he has taught the boys not to give up when under fire. And he wants to live up to this credo.
The boys faces "lit up" when they chose Hooters earlier in the season, Burbach said. Besides, the restaurant has televisions to play game videos.
"I find the location appropriate and actually perfect for this age group," he said. "I see this as a family sports bar, and that’s where we’re going to have our banquet."
Hooters, sensing a publicity moment, will pick up the tab for the party, donate $1,000 to the Corbett Youth Football Board and send a corporate representative to the restaurant, which is in north Portland.
The controversy started with a parent complaint to school officials.
Soulagnet said when he told people the event was going to be at Hooters, to gauge their reactions, "they looked at me in disbelief," according to a letter he sent to families of the players and posted on a school website.
He said he posed a question to them to start off the conversation:
"Outside of a bar, tavern or a strip club, where would be the next worst place in the lines of restaurants to take a middle school football team to? Time after time the reply was Hooters," he wrote.
Burbach was asked to change the location but was "unyielding, and emphatically said no for a number of reasons," Soulagnet wrote.
Soulagnet wrote he "cannot further support" Burbach in his coaching role, which led to dozens of media reports that Burbach had been fired. The coach, however, is a volunteer and not a school employee. He had planned on coaching for one season, although had not ruled out a second. Soulagnet then declared that the party was not a school-sanctioned event.
Rebecca Leontescu, whose son is an eighth-grader on the team, said she and her husband were surprised when they found out the event was at Hooters — and eventually decided to let him go.
"It was a tough decision for us, and we talked it through with our son and wanted this to be a growing experience for him," she said, adding that he really wants to celebrate with his team.
It will be a learning experience for Leontescu as well. Saturday will be the first time she has ever gone to a Hooters.
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