York Swim Coach, English Teacher Quits on the First Day of School

Sudden departure of Jim Clarke leaves student athletes in a bind, with their first swim meet in one week.

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.

Earlier Controversy

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."

Bob Chiarito August 23, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Ms. Chadra - say what you want about me calling people names, but the fact remains that you failed to get comments from Clarke or the school. Saying that his email was deactivated is a lousy excuse. I'm a former reporter and the article you wrote would NEVER pass muster with any of my editors. I'm not sure how you could run it with your name on the byline and be proud of it. It's a one-sided story with only really one source (Ms. Woolfe) who was not privy to the dealings between Coach Clarke and/or Davis and the school. This is really journalism 101. It saddens me to think that a regular civilian --not a politician or celebrity -- can be written about and commented on negatively without being quoted. You did not indicate that he couldn't be reached -- and now you are saying his email was deactivated. I guess you missed the journalism class where you would have learned that there are several ways to reach someone. Somewhere Mike Royko is rolling in his grave.
MK August 23, 2012 at 07:44 PM
It all starts with the parents/homeowners of Elmhurst making a stand to make some changes NOW.....next School Board Meeting Tuesday September 11th 7:30 .....Hope to see everyone there that has a kid at or planning on attending YHS in the near future....... if you do, you have a DOG IN THIS FIGHT ! FYI...all you taxpayers out there without kids your property values depend on the success and failure of our ONLY public high school being a magnet to potential home buyers.....your taxes are dependent on a healthy business plan and a balanced budget across the whole school district.......if these things fail you will pay more taxes and you will lose money on the value of your homes.....TIME FOR SOME CHANGES this has gone on long enough !
Rhoward August 23, 2012 at 08:02 PM
At the end of the day, people need to remember that Jim Clarke is a human being not just a swim coach or teacher. Although not overly sensitive or emotional, he has feelings too and deserves to be treated in a respectful manner. Being put in the position of being asked to coach-something he is extremely talented at-but then asked to constantly work with the recently released Davis was an impossible task. Rest assured there is so much more to this story. If the York community wants Coach Davis back so desperately then they should have him-maybe all the valuable training Jim Clarke, Sarah and Kristie did this summer will help them succeed in a very difficult conference in a way that Davis's "skittles day" and mousetrap trust walks hadn't. As for the EP swim mom-maybe you should talk to the administration of EP why Coach Clarke left-and btw he most definitely DID NOT leave the girls in a lurch-he put such a terrific team in place that the girls still won their conference meet that year. The team he put in place at York is equally great-dare I say maybe even better than the released Coach Davis? Coach Clarke, like anyone, has a right to change jobs-and he really doesnt have to answer to a bunch of Elmhurst parents when he makes that choice. Get over yourselves. There will probably be a new Elmhurst controversy next week to really get you blogging
B. T. August 23, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Really JML? You claim to be too busy working and being the mother of 5 to be a helicopter parent, however how much work or parenting have you done the last few days? It seems the majority of your time has been spent stirring this pot! Why don't you give this new coach a chance? It seems she has some solid coaching experience, and many resources for mentors, in and out of the district. It's not like this is such an elite team or program, how many points has this team actually scored at a state meet? I say.... Relax, give it some time. Go back to your job and parenting.
AnnCH August 23, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Maybe it's because I am a coach and teacher in CPS, but I don't really understand why a teacher- or really, anyone- leaving a job is newsworthy. Mr. Clarke left a job. Whatever his reason for his dissatisfaction is his own business. As an educator, I am uncomfortable with the public trial that is going on in these comments. Why, exactly, is this news? I know many people who have quit their jobs on short notice and have not been forced to undergo the scrutiny that Mr. Clarke has. It makes no sense to me. Furthermore, I have had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Clarke in his capacity as a coach and have always found him to be professional, courteous, and friendly. His many years of solid coaching and teaching speak more to his character than his decision to leave York. I hate that a story is written vilifying Mr. Clarke, a person that has done no wrong but quit a job where he was presumably unhappy, when there are so many other greater injustices in this world. Instead of picking on Mr. Clarke, why not choose one of the Wall Street bankers who is currently receiving bonuses when he should be receiving a sentence? I find this article in poor taste and think less of The Patch for even printing it.
Rhoward August 23, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Amen AnnCH. Really is it worth all of the malignant comments and ridiculous speculations? Leave a persons reputation alone and save your gossip for your coffee circle
B-Ball Fan August 23, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Not sure how much of this is public, so I won't name names or sports, but word is another girl's varsity coach is on his way out after tomorrow...
Swim mom August 23, 2012 at 09:07 PM
@Rhoward. I did as many parents did, talk with the administration about Coach Clarke and his rather quick departure and they were just as surprised and no happier than the rest of us. We are a small community, I'm sure our teacher salaries are not what York's are. He did leave this team in a lurch. The admin had four days to come up with a coaching staff for the girls and like York is finding out-quite impossible to do. As for Coach Clark putting a terrific team in place, let us remember who does the actual swimming, the girls. They should be credited for their swimming abilities not the coach, he's not a god, just a man. Please don't equate the girls' successes to an absent coach, the girls are the winners-they came through a terrible mess that was dumped on them. I wish the same for the York girls-- remember girls--he coach may do the line-up, but he doesn't swim--you are the swimmers, you alone stand on that block, swim that race, and go for the pad. Coaches will come and coaches will go--learn what you can and move on-- something better will come your way. Karma is a beautiful thing.
Rhoward August 23, 2012 at 09:22 PM
@swim mom. Although you write that coaches may come and coaches may go, you still seem to be harboring a lot of resentment bc he chose to go. T'he fact is you know he is one of the best. The administration and swim community of EP have nothing but accolade for Coach Clarke-to this day and honestly only excepting you. In fact there was swim reunion that honoured him AFTER he took the teaching position at York. Again, teachers honestly have the right to leave position and change jobs just like anyone else. I'm very sorry you still haven't gotten over it.
SE Elmhurst Resident August 23, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Just as a point of information use and scheduling of the pool and all other facilities at York HS are channeled through the District 205 Office to John Rutter who serves both as the A.D. at York HS and the facilities coordinator at York.
Swim mom August 23, 2012 at 10:07 PM
@Rhoward. Please get your facts straight. The swim reunion that year was planned by Clarke the previous year. It was not to honor Clarke as you would have it. The purpose was to honor the rich swim tradition the EP has. Many of the swimmers from the 70's and 80's were there and it was great to see our girls run out there with them. The year before that was for the football tradition and this year's homecoming we will honor the marching band's history. This all is planned well in advance, the prior school year as I have said. All I have ever said is that Coach Clarke left EP abruptly just as he did at York. The circumstances may be different for each case but all I speak to is his action, leaving the team on the eve of the girls season. For this I have been called names and now judged by you. What do you gain by vilifying me? I have made no comment on Clarke's character and yet my character is up for grabs, because of what you read into my words and the way you twist the facts about the administration and the homecoming that year? If there's anyone who needs to get over it, that might be you. Maybe you should cut back on the caffeine or whatever you might have going. Lastly, I am not one parent, but one voice for many. The whole village of EP does not worship Coach Clarke, he left those girls in his dust.
David R. August 23, 2012 at 10:12 PM
The ongoing problems with retention in the athletic department clearly stem directly from poor leadership in the principal and athletic director positions, and both need to go. Diana Smith's inability to manage this situation and put the right people in place is but one example of why she's not qualified to lead this school. She has no vision or desire to make York exellent academically and/or athletically. Don't students, taxpayers and parents deserve better?
JML August 23, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Interesting. This story isn't really about Clarke, although he did something outrageous enough (qutting during the season) to be newsworthy. And certainly his fan club has shown up here in the past day or so to try to justify his actions. And perhaps drag Davis into the mud? Rather, the story is about the problems in York's athletic department (primarily Rutter it seems, and may or may not involve Smith, she certainly doesn't need to be involved but perhaps she is?). Maybe Clarke is even doing us a favor -- maybe this is a high enough profile stunt to get some serious accountability from D205 and York over the next couple of public meetings (I think that Pruneau says in the article above that there is a meeting tonight.)
B. T. August 23, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Bball Fan...nice way to start rumors. REALLY? Don't you people have anything better to do than this?
JML August 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM
LOL. Really, where did I even say what gender I am, or how many kids I have? If I'm stirring the pot, I'm stirring it toward Rutter, so I don't understand why the Clarke fan club is so irritated with me. I'm probably the one giving him the most slack on here (and you have to admit, his actions look pretty bad on the surface.) As for Coach Pauly, I've not said a word, so why do you think I'm not giving her a chance? But I do want to say "thanks" for the life advise.
David R. August 23, 2012 at 10:41 PM
JML: I don't know Rutter, but it would be hard to conclude that he doesn't need to be replaced at this point given the continued loss of highly regarded coaches. Clearly there is something wrong in the athletic department. I'm guessing Smith keeps him on because she can control him. That seems to be her M.O. - she'd rather have someone she can control than hire the best possible person for the job. Clearly she is acting in her own best interest and not in the best interest of the school and the students, which is why she also needs to go. A principal's singular focus should be striving for excellence in all areas, and that is clearly not the case with this principal. The students and taxpayers deserve better.
Sarah Strait August 23, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Oh, swim mom, I beg of you, have the gut to say your name. You have the advantage in dragging Coach Clarke's name through THE MUD and claim you represent many, yet you don't stand by your "facts" with your name. I am just doubtful of these claims. State your name, and I DARE you to have all these "others" come forward. Enough is enough. You have NO idea the FACTS behind Coach Clarke's leaving York. I say - you are stickin your NOSE in a place it does not belong. And if you are so bold, then share your name. Brig it on an even playing field.
Swim mom August 24, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Oh dear dear Sarah, you too need to slow down and take a breather... leave that cap key lock alone for a while. I never said that I know why Clarke left York, the only thing that I have talked about is that he left EP at the start of our girls season two years ago. Please go back and read through my posts carefully. I have not dragged his name through the mud as you have said, I stated that he left EP at the start of the girls season two years ago. I do have facts, he left the girls swim team four days before the start of the girls season two years ago in EP. I have never commented on his leaving York. I do not know why he left York, all I know is that he left EP four days before the girls season two years ago. Why won't I say my name?, Because of people like yourself that are attacking others without reading. I never said anything about Clark other than he left the EP team four days before the start of the season two years ago. I'm not sure if you have seen my other posts but I'll try one more time. Coach Clarke left EP two years ago, four days before the start of the girls season, that's all I have communicated thus far. You also might want to slow down and use your spell check a bit more. Just advice for the future.
Sarah Strait August 24, 2012 at 01:03 AM
My name is Sarah Strait. I PROUDLY STAND by my claims of you dragging Coach Clarke's name through the mud. I also proudly stand by my DECLARATION of calling YOU A COWARD. I sleep well, I wonder about YOU.
John August 24, 2012 at 01:25 AM
@swim mom: When you start spouting out incomplete facts you start to tell a false tale. Not sure what your motivation is on adding heresay to this message board? I find it strange how you are shocked that people are disturbed by your comments. Conversely, I have heard the very opposite to your gossip. He was in fact loved and respected by all at EPCHS.. I have NEVER heard anything to the contrary.. Especially from EP admin.
Maureen August 24, 2012 at 02:25 AM
My sons and daughters swam for Jim Clarke on the age group and E. P. High School swim teams over the course of many years. Clarke is a very dedicated and conscientious teacher and coach who cares about each one of his student athletes. Beyond that, he is a man of impeccable character. For years, I have been around many EP swim parents and the comments are always positive. I strongly doubt swim mom’s “…I am not one parent, but one voice for many” nonsense. As for York, the “Save Dave” slogan is childish. I think it speaks volumes that Dave himself, as aquatic director, has not gotten up to say…”enough!!!”
Swim mom August 24, 2012 at 02:38 AM
I never said anything negative about Coach Clarke except to say that he left the the girls swim team four days before the start of the season. Its not mean, it's what happened. I never said anything about the admin except that they were surprised as we were. They had four days to fill an English and swim position. This is a witch hunt against me for no reason. I'm leaving the sandbox... this is insanity.
Bob Chiarito August 24, 2012 at 02:53 AM
good riddance!
Jim Beaumont August 24, 2012 at 03:12 AM
@swim mom, Ms.Wolfe and the rest of the over caffienated gang, Take a deep breath. IN MY OPINION this is a sport. Not a critical class, or teacher that will get your child into an IVY league school. I wish we could get this excited when we loose a fabulous english or speech teacher. As a parent of a york athelete I accept the fact that the economy and other issues have forced changes in some of our high school athletics. I feel athletics and fielding a team is important to the our high school. But in the big picture athletics is not that important. Face it, if your daughter gets a swimming scholarship it will only be 500 bucs and the only reason she got the scholarship was because she is a better student than swimmer. Coachs come and go, Let's support our new coach. And those that don't like it can spend a couple thousand on a club team to get that 500 dollar scholarship.
Mustangs August 24, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Where is your information coming from? It is false; that is not what happened at Evergreen.
Sheila Dugan August 24, 2012 at 05:32 AM
I have read this article and could not be more disappointed in the bias way in which it was written. I have known Jim Clarke as a coach, educator, and a co-worker. I can not say enough great things about him. He is a wonderful and caring teacher and coach. Anyone who has worked with him or has been taught/coached by him would completely agree with me. I have learned how to be a better coach because of him. It upsets me to see people rush to judgements about a situation that they have very limited information on. I understand that people are upset that their daughters are unsure of who their coach will be, but that is no reason to take their anger out on Jim Clarke. While I do not know the specific circumstances, I am sure that it was an incredibly difficult decision and he has his reasons.
Patrick Flannigan August 24, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Bob you are right, the fact that the kids of D205 have also lost a great English Teacher is a shame. Jim is a real good coach, but an even better Teacher.
JML August 24, 2012 at 09:36 PM
@ Bob, That's exactly the point, though. There was something working really well at York/ D205 last February that could have stayed under the radar but the AD butted in, fired a coach that was loved, wouldn't give any rationale for the decision other than "a new vision", etc. Then he hired a new coach and we can see here that he has a number of raving fans from his old team that have come to his defense. But Clarke quit in the midst of his first season on the job. The 85+ comments are because the AD decided to fix what wasn't broken, and now it is broken. Hopefully the D205 board members are shaking their heads at their employees that are publicly screwing things up from the inside. For whatever reason, when other teachers quit or get RIF'ed it is less public. You are absolutely right that the Board, and Superintendent, should have better things to do that worry about athletics. The parents didn't create the mess, they're reacting to the mess the AD has created with his failed personnel decisions (firing Davis, hiring Clarke). Since you're concerned about academics, keep in mind the girls swimming program under the coach that was fired last winter by the AD had produced a large number of Academic All-Conference swimmers over the years. This was a key message in the outrage last February. In this program, there is a proven history that academics were #1. Which might have also been true under Clarke if he didn't quit; but we'll never know.
concerned citizen August 25, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Just lost Jason Reinecke too! Dean and basketball coach leaving for somewhere in Michigan. Is it the admin or snarky parents driving these people out of town. There is obviously a loyalty issue which is sad for D205.
Kerri Witowski August 26, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Jim Clarke is one of the good ones. A great educator, coach, mentor, and even more, he truly is a teacher in the full sense of the word. I first met Mr. Clarke as one of his students and since that time I would now call him a friend. He is dedicated person who cares about more than just test scores and wins. He really cares about guiding the youn people he encounters onto a path that will make them better people. Any person who can say a bad word about him has not made the effort to know him. It is unfortunate that subpar journalism on a suburban blog would stoop to such slander without really getting the facts. It deeply frustrates me that someone I admire so much could be so unfairly ridiculed. I know that Jim will continue on the high road and move past this gracefully to find another school to find home so he can get back to inspiring students.


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