Consequences follow East football controversy

Asst. coach Michael Willis terminated Feb. 11, AD Brian Colbert to retire in unrelated personnel change, according to officials

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Last October, the Proviso East High School football team was disqualified from the state playoffs due to allegations that the team fielded ineligible players. Roughly six months later, the implications of that controversy are gradually becoming apparent.

During a regular meeting on Feb. 11, the District 209 Board of Education terminated an associate football coach at Proviso East and accepted the retirement of the high school's athletic director/assistant principal. And in an interview on Feb. 14, D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said that the school has also implemented more stringent residency checks across the district, as a result of the football controversy.

Rodriguez confirmed that the termination of Michael Willis, the associate football coach and a lunchroom monitor in the district, was related to the playoff disqualification; however, the superintendent said that the retirement of Brian Colbert, the school's athletic director and one of its three assistant principals, was due to "personal reasons" unrelated to the controversy. Colbert's retirement is effective June 30. 

Last October, the varsity football Pirates appeared to have made the state playoffs for the first time in more than a decade after beating intradistrict rival Proviso West 14-8. In a letter, IHSA officials said that based on the information they found the team had to forfeit four wins.

"The ruling is that there were two students who were in violation of IHSA bylaws," Cynthia Moreno, the district's communications director, said at the time. "One student's residency cannot be verified and the other student was ineligible to play due to being beyond the eight consecutive semesters allowed for students to participate in IHSA activities."

On Feb. 14, Rodriguez said that the district is still in the middle of an investigation into the controversy, parts of which have ended and parts of which are still ongoing. The superintendent confirmed that Oliver Speller, the head football coach at East, is still in his position. 

Rodriguez said that during the investigation, the district discovered some systemic issues that may have led to the controversy, such as the fact that Colbert's dual roles as assistant principal and athletic director required him to be at the school during the day, resulting in a lack of administrative oversight during evening activities.

"Right now, when the AP/AD leaves, there's inadequate administrative oversight," Rodriguez said. "You need something more structured."

The superintendent said that he plans to present a new staffing plan to the board sometime in March that he believes will rectify that systemic problem. 

"With the new model, you'll have a principal, two assistant principals and one AD — still the same amount of people; it's just that now you have an AD who is addressing all of your AD needs," Rodriguez said.

The superintendent added that, as a result of the football controversy, the "district is launching a big campaign of residency checks. We're sending letters to parents to verify residency." Rodriguez said that the district's recent decision to switch to online registration system will present an opportunity for the district to rectify any systemic residency issues that may exist.

"If there are habits that have developed, we can break them with the new system," he said.

When reached by phone on Feb. 15, D209 board President Ned Wagner declined to comment further on the matter, since the district's investigation is still ongoing.

"The board doesn't want to disclose details, given the fact that the investigation is still ongoing," Wagner said. "So, it's best not to comment on these particular personnel matters right now."

Rodriguez, however, said that he suspects more disciplinary actions to result from the district's investigation into the football controversy. He declined to go into details, citing the ongoing investigation. 


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