A band of student athletes, parents and staff members united last night at the Island Trees Board of Education meeting in support of Andy Schneider, the Island Trees High School girls soccer and basketball coach who was terminated from his position just days after the start of the 2011-12 winter season.
According to many of those who spoke, an incident on Facebook involving a soccer player from a neighboring school shortly after the fall soccer season came to an end allegedly led to Schneider's removal from both teams. Schnieder, whose soccer team won Conference A-II this season, is currently a physical education teacher in the district.
Dozens of supporters, including the entire Lady Bulldogs varsity basketball team, pleaded to the board on Wednesday that their chosen punishment does not fit the crime. Bridget Vilbig, an Island Trees senior who has played basketball her entire high school career, felt her most important season of all has been ruined and the decision to take her coach away was unjust.
"I've been looking forward to my senior year as a time I'll always remember," she said. "Now, [when] I think of my senior year, I think of this."
Vilbig also reminded the board just how selfless and caring Schneider is to all of his team. "He was a mentor to me and the reason I want to become a coach," she said. "Schneider always taught us to learn from our mistakes and we trusted that advice. Now he doesn't get a chance to correct his."
"Schneider doesn't coach lacrosse but he has provided me with so many opportunities to live my dream at Ohio State," Vilbig added. "He got me on a winter league to play and even got me a tryout on the Irish National Team. The most unselfish thing he's done was let me miss one of our biggest games of the season to go to Ohio State. He knew how much it meant to me and he wanted me to fulfill my dream."
Jackie Simons, an Island Trees parent, told the board of the remarkable support Schneider and his team showed for her and her daughters after she lost her husband last year.
"He put together a huge fundraiser for myself and my girls because he cares about the people in this community like they're his family," said Simons. "He's a wonderful man."
Alexa Dolgos, a freshman who has known Schneider since her elementary years, said her success in soccer would have never happened if it wasn't for her coach.
"Schneider encouraged me to try out for soccer in fourth grade," she said. "Today I am a varsity soccer player in the ninth grade. He not only taught my skills but he taught me to be kind, gracious and respectful."
Dolgos pleaded for the board to reconsider their decision, sharing how most of the soccer team does not want to return to the field next year without Schneider's guidance.
"It only took you two days to come up with the decision to fire our coach and I don't think that is fair," Dolgos said with tears in her eyes. "Please change your decision. Missing the basketball season has been enough punishment."
Parent Susan Biondilillo spoke about her daughter, a 2011 graduate of Island Trees whose experience with Schneider has led to an amazing future.
"Meghan was asked to play varsity basketball as an eighth grader and I was nervous but Mr. Schneider said he'd help her," explained Biondilillo. "Meghan was the third girl to score 1,000 points in Island Trees history and is now a starter at Springfield College as a freshman."
"We all make mistakes," she added. "He may have made a little one sticking up for his player but you guys may have made one too. There are more young girls he can inspire in this neighborhood."
The general question Wednesday night was "Why?", but the Board of Education was unable to give an answer. Though they commended the students for speaking their mind, board president Patricia Mahon said they are not permitted to discuss the matter in public.
"When you ask for a reason, we are prevented by confidentiality to give any reason," said Mahon. "There is now pending litigation. I'm sorry, but that is the only response we can give you. I know for some of you that's not enough, but that's all the district can say."