Sign of dissatisfaction: Mom takes dispute with B-M football program to her front yard

BERLIN TWP. A mom who says she and her son were mistreated by the Berlin-Milan Middle School footbal
May 24, 2010



A mom who says she and her son were mistreated by the Berlin-Milan Middle School football program is taking her complaints to the street -- Ohio 113 East, to be exact.

For about a month, a marquee in Amy Ortner's front yard has displayed messages critical of the football program. It has drawn the attention of people traveling this busy stretch of highway and an offer of money to take it down, which Ortner characterized as a bribe.

Mark Suhanic, who made the offer, said he was just trying to give Ortner what she wanted and acting not as a school board member but on behalf of a friend.

"I just wanted it to go away. I guess you could look at it as a bribe, paying her off, but she was very adamant that she wanted the money," Suhanic said. "She wanted the money and there was a guy willing to pay the money."

She didn't take the money.

Ortner's son earned subpar grades in seventh grade last year, making him ineligible to play football. But she wasn't familiar with that portion of the student handbook, and she said no one told her Keegan was ineligible until after he had a uniform and trained with the team for weeks.

By then, Ortner had paid $10 for a physical and $60 for a pair of cleats, which she said is a lot when she's laid off from work. She had not paid the new participation fee, which is $75 for middle school activities.

Ortner asked the school to reimburse her, and they refused.

"They made a mistake and didn't look to see who was eligible," she said. "They try to blame it on me because I didn't pay attention to what the rule book said."

Suhanic knocked on Ortner's door earlier this month. He said Friday that he wanted to find out what the problem was and how it could be solved.

Joseph Burnham Sr., whose orchard is just west of Ortner's house, told Suhanic the sign was bad for business. Burnham was willing to pay the $70 Ortner was looking for, and Suhanic said he offered to split the cost.

Ortner said Suhanic told her he was concerned her sign -- which she borrowed from a friend -- made the schools look bad in advance of a levy vote next month.

"I'm mad that the only reason they're worried is because of the levy," she said. "They're not worried about the justice of taking a kid off of a team after he's been part of it for two months."

Suhanic said rules are rules, and the levy isn't the only reason he wanted the sign taken down.

"Any bad publicity isn't good any time. It happens we do have a levy going on," he said, "but most people don't understand what this has been about, and she hasn't been forthcoming in explaining to people."

Ortner said she plans to keep the sign up at least until after the levy vote.

Some residents said that even if they don't know the whole back story, Ortner's sign sums up some of the frustration they have with the school district.

"If they think the levy's going to pass in November because they're holding us hostage, they're sadly mistaken," resident Debbie Nottke said. "The highlight of my morning is driving home from taking my kids to school and seeing her sign."