Phil Pash's Simply Sports: Perrone catches couple of breaks

Up front, I will tell you I don’t listen to talk radio as practiced on WNTA-AM-1330 of Rockford all that much (they don’t have any use for me, I don’t have any use for them).

But I did happen to catch a portion of Ken DeCoster’s show June 15. He had on Paul Perrone, the erstwhile Machesney Park Harlem varsity girls’ basketball head coach, and I listened a while.

Perrone was fired/not renewed as coach June 13. The Harlem School Board voted 5-2 against rehiring Perrone, and voted 7-0 to hire his assistant Luanna Kish as his replacement.

Perrone has filed a case with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, saying he was fired for health reasons (he has Type II diabetes) and age discrimination. Perrone also says he wasn’t given any explanation for not being rehired, and he has hired an attorney to pursue a possible lawsuit.

In case you haven’t been following along, Perrone has coached for 31 years, 14 at Harlem where he’s 12 wins shy of becoming the school’s all-time winningest basketball coach, girls or boys.

DeCoster said he called Perrone to ask him to be on the show; Perrone did not call him. It was good DeCoster made the call for two reasons—the dispute has not been written about much (only the electronic local media seems to be paying attention), and a lot of Rockford-area coaches probably go through something similar.

Why else do you think we see so many new coaching faces around here every season? Kids only are in high school four years. During that time, parents with unreasonable notions of how good their offspring are can make a coach’s life a living hell.

Would you want a job like that? The pay isn’t that good, and the hours are long, and only some of the people are grateful for what you do. I know what I’m talking about. My late father coached for 25 years in another era, and I couldn’t talk one of my sons out of teaching and coaching.

The American Sport Education Program (ASEP) says it certifies more than 3,000 non-faculty coaches in Illinois each year, and yet many schools still struggle to fill coaching vacancies. Statistically, Illinois faces an attrition rate of 40 percent across the board in coaching. Not all of those vacancies are because of retirements.

As you might expect, some callers to DeCoster’s show sided with Perrone and said he did a good job; others would have driven to the studio to participate in a public pilloring of him.

The callers I took most seriously were the ones who DID NOT have a child on a Perrone-coached team because you could figure they didn’t have an ax to grind. I wonder if Harlem ever has had any coach worthy of coaching there?

One caller said he had gone through something similar, and the only way Perrone could win is if he had a pile of money to hire the very best lawyers or if he was a minority. Based on my life experiences, I could agree with that.

But Perrone apparently is going to get a break. On June 16, he told Scott Leber of WTVO-TV-17 that the Illinois Department of Human Rights in Chicago charged the troubled-on-many-fronts Harlem School District with discrimination. A charge has been filed with the Federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Leber reported.

A copy of the charge will be forwarded to the district in 10 days. District officials then will have 60 days to respond.

The Human Rights department believes Perrone might be a victim of physical discrimination and age discrimination, Leber reported.

“This is the first time someone has listened to me and has heard the facts. My purpose is not to harm anybody. My purpose is fairness and justice,” Leber quoted Perrone as saying.

Perrone isn’t seeking damages. He says he simply wants his coaching job back.

Harlem School District officials will be given the option of settling Perrone’s case through mediation. If the district doesn’t accept that option, a civil rights violation complaint will be filed and a lengthy investigation will follow.

An investigation could get expensive for both sides, but Perrone says his expenses will be covered by the Department of Human Rights, said Leber.

Personally, I hope the aging white guy with the controllable diabetes nails their butts to the wall. My guess is he will have a big cheering section.

From the June 22-28, 2005, issue

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