“We recognize that tonight’s recommendations and actions taken on the coaching status of Mr. Booker and Mr. Burke were very difficult decisions,” L-P superintendent Steve Wrobleski said in a prepared statement. “It’s very evident that both men cared deeply about coaching. However, as a district we are moving in a different direction in our coaching philosophy and it’s our belief that these changes will allow us to move forward. I do wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Booker and Mr. Burke for their years of service to the athletic program at LPHS.”
The board voted 6-1 in favor of not reappointing Booker and Burke to their head coaching positions as well as their assistant football roles.
Board members Alan Cherpeske, Rose Marie Lynch, Peter Meier, Jim Quesse, Rick Sipovic and Cathy Renk voted in favor, while board member Tony Sparks voted “no.”
“It’s a tough thing,”Sparks said. “Obviously, I’m just one board member, but I just didn’t agree with all the reasons presented so I held my ground as a no vote. It’s closed session material so I’m not going to go into details. I just felt strongly about keeping those guys.”
A large group that included baseball players, track and field athletes, L-P students, former L-P students and athletes, L-P parents and coaches and the Putnam County baseball team also felt strongly about the decision.
The group that remained after a nearly two-hour closed session gave Booker and Burke a standing ovation as they walked out of the L-P library, and several baseball players broke down in tears on their way out.
Booker, who in his 20th season owns a 365-266 record, said after he did not want to comment on the situation because the baseball team still is in season.
The Cavaliers (24-6) play today at Ottawa with the winner claiming the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division championship before opening the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A Metamora Regional on Wednesday.
Burke, who has coached at L-P for 12 years, just said “he did it right” and wanted to thank his supporters.
Both men spoke on their own behalf during open session.
Both spoke about the impact they’ve made on student-athletes and the relationships they’ve built with former players, and both spoke against appeasing the “vocal minority” and said their supporters outweighed their detractors.
“(Wrobleski) state the perception was that I have poor relationships with students. He said the perception has been generated by parents, peers and students,” Burke said. “I have been told personally by parents, peers and students that my relationship with students have changed their lives and inspired them.”
Booker said “there seems to be a new vision. We have not been told how to achieve or reach that.”
“I am more than willing and open to any professional development, education or an in-service type program that can help me see our new vision,” Booker said. “I don’t understand where it’s at right now, I don’t understand where it’s going, but I am more than willing to do anything that can be done to help me stay in baseball, which is my true passion.”
Several other people spoke on the coaches’ behalf.
Current baseball player Lizandro Sanchez talked about the coaches helping him develop on and off the field, and Larry Bianchi, a self-described “former disgruntled (baseball) parent,” told two stories of his interaction with Booker when his sons played in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I can assure you of one thing, you may find a coach as good as Bill Booker, but you won’t find a better man,” Bianchi said.
Former L-P baseball player Joe Goskusky, who started on L-P’s fourth-place state team in 2009, said Burke and Booker were tough on players but taught skills that can be used later in life.
“If the reason you are considering releasing these coaches is their zealous and intense style of coaching, it is these coaching styles that have had the most positive impact on my high school sports experience and instilled values that I will carry and use throughout my entire life,” Goskusky said. “I left L-P with the utmost respect and admiration for these two men.”
Wrobleski said the recently completed audit did not impact decision. However, the audit indicated that among male athletes, “there was disagreement and conflict with how they were treated by coaches. Some felt intimidated or even isolated by a few coaches.”
The audit also said parents representing their son (especially in the sports of football, baseball and soccer) “showed a great concern in regards to treatment, isolation and the overall experience their child was having.”
“The audit gave us direction in terms of vision we need to establish to create a more unified focus, but in terms of the audit directing this, no,” Wrobleski said.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at email@example.com.