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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 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.

Angel diabolik February 23, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Community does not have a say in what the elite do, so forget it!
Alan Brinkmeier February 23, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Angel We are hoping this time will be different. We are hoping those in power do listen to the important messages given about academics, athletics, superior persons such as Dave Davis, and concerned student-athletes and parents that have pride in their local schools. Thanks for your comment. Alan Brinkmeier
Paul Guerino February 23, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Alan--As I asked in the past, "Did Dave want this meeting?" I never got a yes or a no. I didn't attend the meeting, because, in this case, I am not involved in any way with this program. Did he want this meeting?
Andriani Siavelis February 24, 2012 at 02:48 AM
There has never been a reason or incident that would prevent Coach Davis from coaching any team, boys or girls. I am a mother of three girls who admire and respect him as their coach. He motivates them to want to be better people as well as better swimmers. I am also a member of the swim team board and I could not think of a better role model or coach for our children.
S LoPiano February 24, 2012 at 03:02 AM
In response to mr. Conan. No. Dave Davis is a remarkable teacher, mentor and leader to children in this town age 5 - 18. Hundreds of people who have known him as much as 21 years came out to support him and request that high school administrators reinstate him in this role.
Karen Chadra (Editor) February 24, 2012 at 03:11 AM
That is the big missing piece to the story, and we will never know what is in his employee evaluation. That said, he's been on the job for more than 20 years, and he does have 100 percent support from a lot of people who seem to know him very well. If there were any indiscretions or a poor performance somewhere along the line, they certainly don't seem aware of it. Pure love in that room. I've reached out to him to get his perspective.
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I just find it hard to believe that for no apparent reason they would relieve him of his duties ONLY for the girls swim team...it's just odd. There has to be a reason.
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Paul asks a great question. Mr. Davis knows why he will not be coaching the girls swim team, did he want this meeting? Is he fighting to be reinstated? The man coached more girls that made it to state than in the school's history...nobody, without reason, would ask that coach to step down.
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Mr. Cronan, the reason announced and the reason given to those of us that have asked is this -- "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face". That is the reason. What that means, who decided that and why that was decided is what this public inquiry is attempting to establish. Hundreds of swimmers, parents of swimmers, other coaches at the school and around Illinois, plus swimmer alumni all unanimously disagree with the reason that "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face" given the countless contributions made by this fine man to the community, the swimmers and the school. Alan Brinkmeier
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 04:06 PM
The thinking by this larger group that the decision is wrong is this -- Since Coach Davis values academics so much as a part of a sports program, and since his student excel in academics to such a high degree and because his swimmers and program sent more girls to state IHSA competition in York history, the decision that "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face" is misguided and indeed is very wrong. Remember, the reason announced and the reason given to those of us that have asked is this -- "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face". That is the reason. What that means, who decided that and why that was decided is what this public inquiry is attempting to establish. Hundreds of swimmers, parents of swimmers, other coaches at the school and around Illinois, plus swimmer alumni all unanimously disagree with the reason that "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face" given the countless contributions made by this fine man to the community, the swimmers and the school. Alan Brinkmeier
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Mr. Brinkmeier, I would like to point out that nobody is asking themselves this question: WHY ISN'T MR. DAVIS FIGHTING FOR HIS POSITION BACK? If you were the administration and the information used to make this decision is PRIVATE what on earth would you say to the screaming public? Unless Mr. Davis is unclear as to why he is being asked to step down, than I think the parents need to take a step back. They obviously think the world of him, and he may have been a great coach/mentor but maybe it should be allowed to end that way. What if all the outpouring reveals things you may not want him remembered by? Things you don't know...What's that song? Ah yes, "Let it be, let it be...."
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Mr. Cronan Again, the reason given was "Elmhurst swimming needs a new face". That is a direct answer to your question. Again, trying to understand the meaning of that, what the thinking was that went into that and trying to persuade a different result is why this is all going on. This question you say has not been asked has been asked. Dave Davis has nothing to fear. HIs reputation is stellar and will remain so. Remember, he still is a full time employee at the school and holds that position and others as a District employee. Alan Brinkmeier
Swim Parent February 24, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Mr. Cronan: Mr. Davis did not organize the kids and parents who supported him, but he would very much like his job back. The insinuations you make are ridiculous and insulting. Dave Davis is still an employee of York High School, he is still coaching boys and girls on the Elmhurst Swim Team, he still works with boys and girls swim classes at York, and will reapply for the Girls Swim Coach when posted. You say that there are things which we do not know, and you are correct. Coach Davis is not the first casualty of the current athletic director at York. Ask the ten or so other coaches who either left or were dismissed in the two or so years of this athletic director's tenure.
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Hey, I am as appalled as the next guy, I just sit here wondering wth? How can they get away with that? If he has done nothing wrong and is producing intelligent, history making athletes why in the world would you want him to step down? Swim Parent, do you think this the case with Bill Lech?
Jay Loudermilk February 24, 2012 at 07:22 PM
It is remarkable to me (and my Dad was a high school varsity track coach and offensive coordinator on a state-ranked football team, so I've seen my share of coaches and AD's and this type of controversy), just how consistent the support of the community is behind Coach Davis. The Elmhurst swim community is not asking for the change that is being forced upon it. And as a parent of a child in the program, I tremendously respect Coach Davis's approach and I hope he's coaching her when she gets to York. Swim coaches that burn-out, turn off, and discourage their athletes are about a dime per dozen. I'm sure York can find one of those clowns without any problem. I've talked to a few other swim parents about this recently and we can all remember that coach that turned us off and prompted us to quit swimming in our youth. On the other hand, Coach Davis is the type of man and leader that the kids want to keep swimming for, and he helps them achieve success in the classroom, in the pool, on the medal stand, and in life. York doesn't want those things, apparently, so what do they want?
wolfme1 February 24, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Cronan, I am a parent of one of the girls varsity swimmers who was on the State team under the direction of Coach Davis. For you to allude or imply in any way, without being in the immediate situation, that Coach Davis was relieved of his position for a reason that insinuates anything less than the stellar character this coach has portrayed in 21 years is insulting. Here's your specific reason Davis was removed from the varsity girls coaching job: the current Athletic Director is on a power play and is unfortunately supported by our Principal. As prior parent noted this current Athletic Director is directly or indirectly responsible for approx 10 coaches turning over in the past 3 yrs. He has left this team at a severe disadvantage to get a new coach because of the timing of this announcement and his lack of a plan or any criteria that he will disclose to anyone. And, at the same time interviewing at other schools. The saddest part of the whole situation is that the girls are losing out by this fiasco. They will never be able to replace the caliber of coach that we currently have.
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Cronan, Here are facts. The current Athletic Director was hired July 2009. Since he was hired the following coaches have either been fired, forced out of their York coaching spots or left York altogether due to a seeming bad athletic department atmosphere. Head football coach Two head varsity boys basketball coaches Head varsity girls gymnastics coach Head varsity girls lacrosse coach Head varsity softball coach Head varsity baseball coach and now, Head girls varsity swimming coach* Numerous assistant coaches have changed over, too, since July 2009. When the current AD John Rutter was hired and the current Ass't AD Racheal Shepherd came on at York Community High School's athletic program was strong and was ranked 17th overall in the nation by ESPN RISE's FAB 50 list in August 2009. Currently, York does not come close to even smelling the top FAB 50. In the last ESPN RISE FAB 50 ranking Lyons was 27th over-all in the nation. Illinois was rated with only three schools on the list from Illinois and the others were Wheaton-Warrenville South ranked 15th and Palatine ranked 41st The athletic department has been moving York sports in the wrong direction these last two plus years.... And you think this is something "let it be" applies to! Please learn the facts and then weigh in with an opinion. Smearing Dave Davis with your inuendo won't work. His reputation is too secure /solid. Davis is Co Coach of Year 2011 in IHSA Sectionals. We'll stand up to support him.
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Alan and wolfme1- Maybe you should re-read my posts: Hey, I am as appalled as the next guy, I just sit here wondering wth? How can they get away with that? If he has done nothing wrong and is producing intelligent, history making athletes why in the world would you want him to step down? Swim Parent, do you think this the case with Bill Lech? I never implied anything, I was asking questions to spark conversation because what you are saying is absolutely appalling! How can an AD get away with this? Someone is benefiting here and it would be nice to understand who!? Why would an AD and a principal want LESS for the school, it just boggles my mind.
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Cronan, You have misled this discussion by saying things such as "parents need to take a step back" and "let it be" and there is a "screaming public" and there "has to be a reason". Carefully and in measured words I and others on this thread have have told you the reason Coach Davis won't be back. You have asserted that the support is made up of a "screaming public" when nothing could be further from the truth. If you'd have come to the Feb 22nd meeting, you'd have seen a professional and heartfelt presentation was made by doctors, lawyers, bankers, dentists, accountants, business people, kids as young as 7, young parents, adults as old as 80 and USS IHSA Swim Officials in the swm community and region. No one raised a voice. No one acted improperly. No one was out of line. All asked for answers. You have misled those reading this into thinking there is a group rising to support Coach Davis who as "parents need to take a step back" and "let it be". No, I have read and re-read your posts. All of them. I've provided you with direct answers. I've provided you with facts. I've provided a full picture. You are the one that needs to research the facts. Spitting out assertions like those you have been quoted as saying are not productive and do not "spark conversation" that is meaningful. "A key to solutions comes from meaningful communication." Alan Brinkmeier "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Alan Brinkmeier
Cronan February 24, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Alan, I tried to read your post but couldn't get past this little diddy: "You have asserted that the support is made up of a "screaming public" when nothing could be further from the truth. If you'd have come to the Feb 22nd meeting, you'd have seen a professional and heartfelt presentation was made by doctors, lawyers, bankers, dentists, accountants, business people"......Well golly gee, there is absolutely no way "these people" could be considered a "screaming public"...please get over yourself and have a great day. =) It was a figure of speech, sheesh!
Alan Brinkmeier February 24, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Mr. Cronan, Please either add something meaningful to the discussion or move on to something else. This commentary isn't about you or me. Alan Brinkmeie
SoonYouWillKnow February 25, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Actually, let's be realistic: Head football coach: Stepped down after his father died suddenly to spend more time with his family, admirable to say the least Two varsity boys basketball coaches: One took at job at a D-1 school, the other was a maniac on the sideline who didn't represent the school well...only my opinion Head girls gymnastics coach: wasn't asked to leave, got another teaching job..admin wanted her to stay Head girls lacrosse coach: who knows, don't know anything about that one Head varsity softball coach: a good guy...who knows, program had been struggling Head varsity baseball coach: went to a better paying district, wasn't forced out...have a superior coach now in Kalal Head girls swimming coach: a good guy, we may never know why All I can say, in my interactions, is that Rutter and Shepherd are outstanding administrators and my kids have had great experiences with them. While I do not know what brought about this dismissal, and knowing Davis he's a good guy, I think it is unfortunate. But I disagree, I think the athletic department has made big gains since Rutter has taken over. Obviously this is a difficult situation, and I appreciate that, but let's support Davis in whatever capacity he remains in.

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