York Principal Discusses Coaching Changes

Principal Diana Smith and Athletic Director John Rutter will seek feedback from parents, students and coaches "to make sure we're running a program that's in everyone's best interest," Smith said.

The 2012-13 school year already has been one of coaching changes for the York High School girls swimming and basketball teams. Last year, and in previous years at York, coaches have come and gone across many sports, and there has been much speculation among parents about why this is so.

Some parents believe it is due to an ongoing dissatisfaction with the environment in which coaches work—that they just can't take it anymore—but coaches have not come out publicly and said that. It could also mean that in the world of high school sports, coaching changes are common because often coaches have opportunities for advancement in other school districts. But one thing is certain: When it happens, it creates quite a stir.

A last week about the girls swim coach suddenly leaving York fueled a barrage of speculation as to the reason. Supporters of the coach, Jim Clarke, came out in force defending his character and criticizing the district and parents for creating an impossible environment for him to work—and Elmhurst Patch for writing an article about it. Parents were upset because they felt their children were left without the leadership needed to win meets.

District officials are not speaking publicly about the specifics of Clarke's unexpected departure; that is their policy when it comes to personnel matters. Superintendent David Pruneau did issue a statement asking parents to support the interim coach in her new position.

But in general, when coaches leave, it's for personal reasons, York Principal Diana Smith said last week. Coaches move out of state to be closer to family members. They are offered opportunities for advancement, sometimes in other fields.

On the heels of coach Clarke's resignation, girls basketball coach Jason Reinecke announced he would be leaving, as well.

"People look at it and say, 'The swim coach quit, and now the head of girls basketball? What is going on over there?' " Smith said. "They don't have anything to do with each other. (Reinecke) had an opportunity for an assistant principalship in Michigan. I talked to the principal there on Friday (Aug. 17) and told him he was gaining a great assistant principal. I'm thrilled for him to be able to go."

When York varsity football coach Bill Lech left last year after seven seasons, parents wondered if something was going on behind the scenes. But his reasons, Smith said, were related to family circumstances.

"He wanted more time with his family," she said. "Bill was a York grad. I was proud of the job he did for the seasons he was here and really supported him in making that change."

When boys varsity basketball coach Tom Shields ended his brief stint with the district in 2005, parents were upset.

"I can remember when we hired Al Biancalana (to take Shield's place)," Smith said. "There was a lot of criticism over that decision, but I knew that Al was a guy who exemplified exactly what we were looking for all the way around."

Biancalana left in 2011 after five seasons to take a job as associate head coach at UIC.

There are many more examples. Is York unique in that regard? Or, is it typical for coaches to move around?

"Absolutely," it's typical, Smith said.

"I do find that people get very emotionally attached in sports," she said. "In a lot of cases, the parents have been with their kids in feeder programs leading up to (high school athletics). The reality is that not every coaching decision is going to please everybody."

That was certainly the case when Coach Clarke's predecessor, Dave Davis, was removed from his position as girls swim coach last school year. Parents and students formed in an unsuccessful attempt to get him reinstated. Davis remains as the boys coach and aquatics director at York. Parents still want him back with the girls team.

But What About Academics?

When Reinecke and Clarke left their coaching positions, they also left vacancies in the classroom, which is something Smith finds more upsetting.

"You get a lot more outcry about coaching changes than you do with teacher changes, which is a shame," she said. "I don't mean to diminish it, but you hear way more about it with coaches."

Reinecke and Clarke left big shoes to fill in the classroom, she said.

"Losing Jim certainly was difficult for the swim team," she said. "But a greater concern for me was losing him in the classroom. He was an incredibly strong English teacher. He was one of our freshman cohort instructors and was just superior in the classroom. Trying to replace him in that situation was very difficult.

"And Jason, people talk about him being the girls basketball coach, but he was a great dean, great science teacher. It's a loss all the way around."

The key to easing some of the tension, perceived and otherwise, is communication, Smith said. A meeting with swim parents last week went well, she said.

"I thought the new coaches spoke very clearly about their vision for the program, and I felt like the meeting was important in moving everybody forward," she said. "The girls were very enthusiastic, the coaches were enthusiastic and the parents were extremely supportive. Those are the elements that are going to allow us to move from a difficult situation to a good season."

Open communication applies to the entire athletics program at York going forward, she said.

"This year, I'll be working with (Athletic Director John Rutter) to get better feedback, to get really good feedback, from parents, students and coaches to make sure we're running a program that's in everyone's best interest," Smith said.

The District 205 School Board also is working on drafting an athletics philosophy that will balance the goals of character development, sportsmanship and, yes, winning games, with the district's primary mission of educating students. Communication with stakeholders is critical to that process, as well.

"I don't think it's mutually exclusive," Smith said. "We believe you can do both. It's important to be able to articulate the (value) of athletics and extracurricular activities as part of the overall high school experience."

Dave August 30, 2012 at 01:34 PM
The article states: "District officials are not speaking publicly about the specifics of Clarke's unexpected departure; that is their policy when it comes to personnel matters." They do "speak publicly" in the article; however, about Coach Reinecke, Coach Lech and Coach Biancalana's departures. No comments on the last two basketball coaches or the last two swim coaches. I guess the "policy" has some flexibility to it.
Karen Chadra (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Hi Dave, Thanks for your comments. I just wanted to respond to a few things. When coaches accept new positions at other schools, it's public knowledge that's usually publicized by the new district. It's not something anyone really could, or would, hide. Biancalana, himself, spoke in detail about his move to UIC—to parents, players and the press. Reinecke's new position will be publicized by the new school in Michigan. As for Lech, no details were mentioned, other than "family reasons." Davis is still employed by District 205, so the administration is not going to detail that personnel situation. And, I didn't ask her about every coach that has left the district. The article is probably too long as it is :) But to your point, I imagine there is some flexibility in talking about the departures, depending on the circumstances.
Cronan August 30, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Well done!
Jackie Johnson August 31, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Nice clarification of the legalities. Keep the focus on the education of the children.
Lived in 5 other metro areas... August 31, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I don't doubt that these teachers were good in the classrooms. These teachers are great examples of adults working their brains and their bodies. The difference for us as parents, is that we can witness their growth in a sport. In academia, we only see the result of their efforts. How much of a grade is the hard work of a good teacher and how much of it is the work of the kids? Thanks for this article. It is hard for us out here to not think the worst sometimes. More communication helps, but imaginations are inventive. If we show up at a sporting event, we're supportive. Show up at English class, and we're hovering. Sometimes hard to know when to speak out.
Educator September 05, 2012 at 02:43 AM
This is just a continuation of a disappointing trend at York High School that ultimately impacts the kids the most. Whether in the classroom or in the athletic arena, York administration has made it difficult to retain and work with highly qualified staff. With turnover in all of the "big three" male sports, basketball, baseball and football in the last few years, it has been difficult to establish and continuity and tradition. Specifically, there have been three coaches since Biancalana left the basketball position in three years. Both former coaches Cannon and Kleinschmidt were positive role models who were not asked back for various personal and professional reasons. Having been a part of the experience in a small way, I believe that much of the problem stems from the athletic administration. There is a clear lack of internal organization and refusal to support coaches. This coupled with questionable hires has truly impacted students in a negative way. Elmhurst is full of great kids and parents, and they deserve better.
Chance the Gardener September 05, 2012 at 07:04 PM
it's not really factual to group Cannon and Kleinschmidt in the same conclusion/description/sentence. Cannon was a bobby knight wannabe who was told he could not re-apply for his own job; while Kleinschmidt abruptly quit to go back to Gordon Tech, his alma mater. if you watched their coaching styles, they were like 'knight' and day. yes, basketball had 4 coaches in 4 years (not good), but to group football with basketball is again, not factual. Lech coached for 7 seasons; and has/had the highest winning percentage of any football coach in york history; his detractors like to point to early playoff losses in the last two seasons, but really, just look at his winning %. he also preached personal accountability and how to conduct yourself like a champion. and why focus on the big three ? big in whose mind ? that of a former cheerleader. look at wrestling, cross country, tennis, track, etc etc.; be thankful for the good coaches you have, not for those who quit on your kids.
Bunky September 07, 2012 at 01:12 PM
You are spot on Educator. The morale of the staff has been challenged far too much over the years. Our Administration does not make working at York a comforatble one. It is a shame that "we" the tax payers and our children lose such wonderful and dedicated teachers. I do not understand the uncomfortable working environment at York and why it has too be this way. Nothing is worse to a child than losing a role model or a coach/teacher that they turn to for advice/help. It can truly do some long term damage to a childs morale. They need to get it together! The Admin tries to paint a pretty picture of the happenings at York but they truly seem as though they don't know which way is up. I am happy for these gentlemen and their new positions. I wish them well. York lost two truly wonderful teachers and coaches.
Bunky September 07, 2012 at 01:15 PM
There was more to Kleinschmidt's leaving than you know. If it affected your checkbook, I think you would have done the same. They don't play fair at York.
Lived in 5 other metro areas... September 07, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Nothing worse than your child losing a roll model or a good coach? Really, please keep this in perspective. There are many things worse. Show your kids how to deal with the issue. Vocalize anger, frustration etc. respectfully to those in charge...all of them, and support your kid learn his/her sport aggressively. I do appreciate all the support I see in the parents out there. Unfortunately, change takes time, (ask Obama, eh?). Lets stay productive about it all. Rather than discussing what we've been thru, lets talk about what can be done.
Bunky September 08, 2012 at 02:41 PM
"Lived in 5 other metro areas..." If you work closely with the kids like I do, there are many kids in this fine community that truly need someone to helpmthem with school but it also branches out to talking with the kids and them asking for advice. Just b/c we live in Elmhurst does not mean we don't have needy kids. Walk a day in our shoes and know that role models are very important to these kids. I still have kids who graduated call me and ask advice and guidance. It takes a village!
York Dukes October 30, 2012 at 12:58 AM
The people in the building at York are the ones that know the truth. Everyone puts blame on John Rutter and its not his fault at all. His hands are always tied and he the AD, can never make a decision on his own. Everything goes through Ms. Smith, who has no idea what is going on (turning down numerous events to raise money for athletic programs) and to a point the ex assistant AD Rachael Shepherd. Ms. Smith and Ms. Shepherd are "buddy buddies". Everyone in the building knows this and sees it daily. Explain this, how does Ms. Shepherd a 30 year old woman, (rumored to not have the right certifications) become head of the PE Department, bouncing Terry Clarke who has been there for over 30 years and was head of the department??!?! As Bunky said above there was more to Coach Kleinschmidt's departure then the outside people know. X amount of dollars were promised and at then end York, Ms. Smith and including Ms. Sheperd, back out of the promised money. He did not quit but when THEY were notified weeks in advanced about him getting an offer to move on but waiting it out to hear from York. The adminstration just let him walk and without a conversation. Lets face it Coach Lech left because of who runs York. Ill leave it at that.
Bunky November 14, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Nicely put York Dukes


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