York High School Girls Swim Team is facing yet another controversial chapter.
When Athletic Director John Rutter that Jim Clarke would be the new head coach for girls swimming, the administration had no idea Clarke would quit his new job on the first day of school.
But, the district is reporting, that's exactly what he did. Clarke also was an English teacher at York.
"Due to the sudden and unexpected resignation of York High School teacher and coach James Clarke, we will be filling both of his positions on an interim basis," York Principal Diana Smith said in a letter to parents on Monday. "The positions will be posted at a later date to be filled on a permanent basis."
Clarke's interim replacement for his English classes is York AP English teacher Kim Lampa.
The void he left on the swim team has left students and parents on edge, especially since the girls have their first meet in one week at home vs. West Chicago. The administration's interim choice for that position, assistant coach Sarah Pauly, did not sit well with parents.
It's not that Pauly isn't well liked.
"She's very nice. The girls love her," swim parent Julie Woolfe said Tuesday. "But she very young. She doesn't have that mentoring experience as an assistant coach."
Woolfe said parents are concerned the girls are not receiving a high enough level of training to prepare them for the State meet and that the current training is not up to the level the girls received in club swimming over the summer. Some of the seniors also are counting on great swim times this year to entice college recruiters, she said.
One York swimmer has even moved out of the district to continue swimming at another school, Woolfe said. Of course, that decision didn't happen overnight.
There is a lot of speculation in the swim community about why Jim Clarke left, but unless Clarke comes forward personally, parents will never know for sure.
One thing is certain: When he was hired in April, he had some big shoes to fill.
Varsity girls swim coach Dave Davis preceded Clarke. Under his leadership, the York Girls Swim and Dive Team had arguably its most successful season in a decade. Under Davis, more girls qualified for the state meet than ever before. He led them to two Sectional championships, and his swimmers had set several school records.
The administration has not been clear on why it relieved Davis of his duties with the girls team. He remains on staff as assistant boys coach and aquatic director at York.
"Clearly, if there was impropriety related to his termination (as girls coach), he would not still be employed with the district," Woolfe said.
At the time, parents and students organized to "Save Dave." Superintendent David Pruneau and heard hours of testimony in favor of Davis.
After all was said and done, Davis was not retained as head girls coach. Parents went to Clarke after he was selected and promised to work with him and accept him into the fold, Woolfe said.
"He was great, motivated, very nice," she said. "We told him we didn't like the way things went down, but that we wanted to support him and make sure he had what he needed to do this well."
Now in the midst of this current emergency, parents want Davis restored as head coach.
"It's a no-brainer," said Alan Brinkmeier, who led the meeting with the Save Dave group and Pruneau in February. Brinkmeier's daughter Perri swam at State last year as a sophomore.
"He would be a natural to bring back," he said. "He's just a tremendous talent with these girls. Many parents are urging the district administration to make a decision here based on what is in the best interest of these student athletes. Reach out to the people who are on your staff that can help."
Part of a Broader Evaluation
But when parents met with Principal Smith Tuesday, reinstating Davis was not on the table, Woolfe said. Neither is it the district's intention to post a job opening for this season. Finding a talented replacement this late in the game would be highly unlikely, anyway.
Instead, the discussion revolved around finding a mentor for Pauly to help her gain critical experience in tapering techniques and general swim meet knowledge.
"A huge part of the swim head coach job (also) is administrative," Woolfe said in an email after meeting with Smith. "Working the scoreboard … meet administration etc. If Pauly does not know how to do those things, it will take significantly more time away from her ability to coach the girls."
That said, Pauly is the only person on deck with swim coaching experience, though limited. Pauly's current assistants only have experience in water polo, Woolfe said.
"It's not the same sport," she said. "It's silly to even try to relate those two. It's like having a track coach used for football."
Parents don't disagree that a mentor is a viable option, but again, they want it to be Davis. Smith suggested another York coach for the role, but Woolfe said, "there's clearly no one on staff aside from Dave who is qualified to do it."
An attempt to contact Smith on Tuesday was unsuccessful.
The response from Superintendent Pruneau also does not mention Davis. It echoes exactly his statements from his with the Save Dave coalition.
In a Tuesday email to Elmhurst Patch, Pruneau wrote: "The Board Improvement Committee is reviewing the Extracurricular and Athletic Policy at its next meeting. This will be a discussion on the overall purpose and direction of all extracurricular and athletic programs across the district. This is not specific to the swim program."
The District 205 Board Improvement Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the administration building, 162 S. York. Under Policy Discussion Topics on the agenda is listed: Review of Policy 7:300 - Extracurricular Athletics.
In the meantime, Pauly is the best option, he said.
"In speaking with the York administration, they wanted to name an interim (coach) that has been part of the program this summer and who knows all of the athletes on the team," Pruneau wrote. "With the start of the season in the next week, it is not feasible to look for a head coach at this point. Ms Pauly knows and is liked by the girls, and the administration feels she is a good match for the circumstances. I am hoping parents will support her in this position."
Clarke Not Off the Hook
Woolfe said they don't know what to do.
"Our first meet is a week from Wednesday. We're in the season. We don't have the luxury of time to figure it out," she said.
While parents have called the district's handling of the situation "pathetic," Clarke caused the problem, Woolfe said.
"From a personnel level, I will make sure, if he is going for swimming or any other position (elsewhere) that they know what happened here, what he did to those girls," she said. "These are teenagers. They can perform like women, but they still have that immaturity. It's really hard on them to be going through this over and over.
"This has put the varsity girls parents over the edge. It's really been a terrible experience to have to go through this."