District 205 Superintendent Won't Overturn Decision on Swim Coach, Promises Discussion With Staff
Wednesday night discussion is first of many intended to help guide the direction of the entire athletic program at York, Superintendent David Pruneau said.
Friends and fans of coach Dave Davis filled the Elmhurst District 205 board room Wednesday night. And, for nearly two hours, they took turns pleading their case—at times through tears—explaining why they think Davis should remain at the helm of the York High School varsity girls swim and dive team.
They spoke of his commitment to character. They said he was like a father-figure and will be invited to their future weddings. They turned in supportive letters and petitions, and they spoke of the way Davis had influenced their lives forever by modeling honor, respect, fairness and dignity.
While Davis is being retained as the assistant boys swim coach and aquatics director, he was informed by the district he will not be back to coach the girls swim and dive team. The news sparked an outcry in the Elmhurst swimming community.
District 205 Superintendent David Pruneau agreed to Wednesday's meeting. He said he wants to get an idea of where the community wants the York athletics program to go.
"This is going to be the beginning of a dialog that I hope goes on for awhile in Elmhurst about athletics, the purpose of athletics, about what we want for our students and where we want our athletic program to go in the future," he said.
Pruneau and swim parent Alan Brinkmeier, who organized the meeting, also dispelled a few rumors. John Rudder has not resigned his position as York athletic director, a new swim coach has not been selected or hired, and Pruneau has not pre-approved a plan that he doesn't want the community to know about, Brinkmeier said.
"There's another rumor I want to put to rest," Pruneau said. "That is that we don't value the swim program and we're looking to diminish it. That is not the case at all."
But Pruneau made no promises about getting Davis his position back. In fact, he said repeatedly that he has no intention of overriding the athletic department staff's decision to relieve him of his girls coaching duties. Pruneau promised to bring parents' comments back to his staff, try to get an answer on where they want to take the swimming program, then bring some answers back to the community, but it will ultimately be up to the staff to make the final decision on Davis.
"It's the athletic director, the assistant athletic director who make that determination for all coaching positions every year," he said, adding Principal Diana Smith signs off on their decision. "The content of the (coach's) evaluation is their responsibility and authority. I am too far removed to make that determination."
Pruneau said the only way he would be involved in a staffing decision is if procedures were not being followed.
"I want to be clear tonight that I'm not going to be overturning (the athletic director's) ruling. I'm not going to do that to my administrative team if they followed the process and procedure. That is the authority they've been given."
But some parents said they believe there is a pattern of inappropriate decision-making. They also noted that this is not the first time Coach Davis has been relieved of his duties.
Brinkmeier said that since July of 2009, about eight head coaches have "either left, been forced out or resigned because of a bad atmosphere."
"Don't start with looking at the pattern today, or even as of June when Dave Davis was first terminated and brought back within a 72-hour time period," Brinkmeier said. "Look at the big picture."
Students, parents, coaches and alumni said they are baffled at why the administration would remove Davis from the girls team, especially with the team's success. More girls made it to the state meet this season than in York's history. They also wondered why, if he is still allowed to coach the boys team and remain as aquatic director, he is no longer welcome to coach the girls.
Parents said they were told the administration wants to go "in a new direction," but they said no one would tell them what the new direction is.
"It just doesn't make any sense to any of us," parent Sue Lopiano said.
Parent Jane Wahlderr said the decision "is wholly unjust—a travesty of profound proportion."
At one point, the conversation between Pruneau and the crowd of more than 100 became less than cordial.
"How about you go back and look at how Dave Davis, (Athletic Director) John Rutter and Diana Smith can work together," parent Monica Fichtner said. "You're in charge of this. You're the leader. I really don't want my superintendent hiding behind process."
Pruneau objected to the accusation, saying "I have an obligation to my administrative team that they don't feel like any decision they make is going to be second-guessed because some parent comes into the office and (complains)."
His comments did not sit well with the group.
"You are at the helm of this ship and you need to take control of it," parent Troy Waldherr said. "Dave has been looking over his shoulder (for a year). The man has aged five years during that time. He's in a fishbowl on the pool deck with everybody staring at him, waiting to find some reason to remove him from that position. You are putting him through a veritable hell.
"Is tonight just a perfunctory meeting, or is there really going to be a true dialog and true action coming from this?"
Pruneau assured the group that their comments would be relayed back to the administration.
"You can believe me or not. This is not perfunctory. I wouldn't go through this kind of agony, quite frankly, if I didn't think (it was worthwhile).
"I'm new. You don't have to trust me, you don't have to believe what I'm saying, but it's not a perfunctory process. I came to Elmhurst to be committed to the community and the organization. That's why I'm here."
Another father said he is tired of Pruneau saying he is new.
"I really wish you'd stop using that," he said. "It pains me to think that you've been here for eight months and you're still staying you can't wrap your head around it because you're new. You're in charge. We're paying you a lot of money to be in charge. You need to start taking charge."
The next step will be to meet with the administrative team, but Pruneau couldn't provide an exact timeline.
"I will try to do this as soon as I can," Pruneau said. "But it's not the only thing we're dealing with in the district. I will certainly make it a priority, but it's not going to happen tomorrow."
Brinkmeier thanked Pruneau for listening.
"I trust he's going to do what he said," Brinkmeier said to parents.
Pruneau said he appreciates the passion felt for Davis.
"I give you my word this meeting is not going to just go on a shelf," he said.