Following months of repeated denials by former school board president Mark Sproat, multiple sources and documents indicate contact between Sproat and at least one Niles West administrator, a parent, and a student regarding former girls basketball coach Anthony Konsewicz.
The controversy first came to a head on Tuesday, April 4 when several parents of girls basketball players, as well as one student, spoke during the audience-to-visitor portion of the board of education meeting regarding Sproat’s alleged harassment of Konsewicz, which led to his resignation as coach.
At the Tuesday, May 2 board of education meeting, the board reorganized; David Ko became the new school board president, ending Sproat’s two-year tenure. Sproat will continue as a school board member until Spring 2019, when his current term is up for reelection.
Also at the meeting, school board members voted to launch an investigation into the allegations against Sproat. The school board hired Robert Swain of Arlington Heights law firm Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick, and Kohn LLP as the special investigator.
The NWN contacted Sproat on Monday, May 8 with a request for an interview for further comment on the situation; Sproat did not respond. However, in previous interviews, Sproat has adamantly denied having any contact with Konsewicz, district 219 administrators, or students as was alleged.
“I have had zero phone calls, emails, texts, nothing,” Sproat said following the May 2 board of education meeting, other than a meeting that allegedly took place in Nov. 2015 between athletic director Kendall Griffin, Konsewicz, assistant athletic director Terri Laux, June Sproat, Mark Sproat, and their daughter, during which June Sproat asked her husband to leave.
After the May 2 meeting, when asked if he had any contact with anyone about Konsewicz, including d219 administrators such as Griffin and West principal Jason Ness, Sproat responded, “No. Not one time had I said to Mr. Konsewicz that I wanted him to resign, not once. Nor did I say to any administrators that I wanted him to resign.”
ADMINISTRATOR CONFIRMS CONTACT WITH BOARD PRESIDENT
Konsewicz paints a different picture. According to him, Sproat had a conversation with Griffin after the first basketball game of the year, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 at York High School, as he was unhappy with his daughter’s playing time and role on the basketball team, as well as to express his discontent with Konsewicz’s role as a coach.
“It is a five-day tournament, and at the last game, Mr. Griffin was stopped outside by his car by Mr. Sproat, for a lengthy time,” Konsewicz said. “[Sproat] voiced his unhappiness with the program [during this interaction], and if things weren’t going to change, ‘heads were going to roll.'”
Griffin confirmed that this conversation took place, and said he believed Sproat’s “heads-will-roll” comment was not only a threat to Konsewicz, but Griffin’s own position as athletic director.
“After hearing that comment, I felt very uncomfortable by the tone and what I believed to be the overall meaning of that statement. I felt, as the athletic director, [that] the comment as a whole and the conversation as a whole made me feel very uncomfortable,” Griffin said.
STUDENT, PARENT CONFIRM CONTACT WITH BOARD PRESIDENT
When questioned further after the May 2 board meeting about whether he spoke to any students about wanting Konsewicz to resign, Sproat denied the allegation, maintaining, “I’ve never said it to anyone. The truth will come out on this.”
Yet according to Konsewicz, Sproat did discuss his dissatisfaction with Konsewicz’s performance as the head girls basketball coach with at least one student in the summer of 2016.
“The [2015-2016] season finished, and the start of summer league is when this all started back up again. It came to my attention from a player that I was going to be replaced, that they would have a new coach at the start of the season. [One of the girls basketball players] was told [by Sproat] she would have a new coach before the season would start [in November 2016],” Konsewicz said.
This student provided Konsewicz with a written statement detailing her encounter with Sproat. Niles West News obtained the written statement from the student on the condition of anonymity.
“[Sproat] then asked me for my personal opinion on Coach K, but I personally enjoy having him as a coach. He disagreed and began to cuss words in his name. He said that he would start to call different coaches from all around to take the position as head coach as soon as possible. I asked him when this would take place, and he responded with by this upcoming winter season. Overall, he showed a clear, almost hatred towards Coach K. A description used to describe him was along the lines of a bad coach who doesn’t listen to his players or give opportunities to all of them,” the statement reads.
Konsewicz also alleged that Sproat spoke to other girls parents about his intent to remove Konsewicz as head coach, an allegation that Sproat denied.
“In the Christmas tournament, that we played out in Mundelein, [Sproat] told one of my parents that he wasn’t happy with his daughter’s playing time, and that I would be replaced; I have a written statement from the parent. He told the same parent on three separate occasions,” Konsewicz said.
Scott Kipp, whose daughter plays girls basketball, confirmed this encounter.
“Mark [Sproat] approached me throughout the 2015/2016 season stating he wanted Tony [Konsewicz] out as coach and that it would happen by the 2016/2017 season,” Kipp stated in a text message. “Last summer during the summer league, Mark told me that Tony would be out as coach on Oct. 1.”
EMAILS CONFIRM CONTACT BETWEEN ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND BOARD PRESIDENT
Information obtained through Illinois Freedom of Information Act reveals that emails exist between Sproat and Griffin.
On May 5, 2017, NWN sent a request for records under FOIA, 5 ILCS 140. The request was for emails between public official Mark Sproat and superintendent Steve Isoye (date range of August 1, 2016 to April 26, 2017), former interim superintendents Mark Friedman and Steve Griesbach (date range of January 1, 2016 to July 31, 2016), and Kendall Griffin (date range of November 1, 2015 to April 25, 2017) using key words “girls basketball,” “girls softball,” “Tony Konsewicz,” “Nicole Reynolds,” “playing time,” “JV,” “varsity,” and “daughter.” All requests came back unresponsive except the emails between Sproat and Griffin.
A letter sent via email, dated May 12, 2017 and signed by district 219 legal associate/FOIA officer Ray Chung, indicates that, while emails exist that are responsive to the request between Sproat and Griffin, they are “exempt from disclosure.”
“The responsive documents contain communications between a public body and attorney and/or auditor representing the public body that would not be subject to discovery in litigation, which are exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(m) of the FOIA. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(m). The responsive documents also contain predecisional information exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(f) of the FOIA, because it includes drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and/or other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, and which have not been publicly cited or identified by the head of the public body. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f). Finally, the responsive documents contain information that can personally identify a student as such is exempt under Section 7.5(r) of the FOIA. 5 ILCS 140/7.5(r),” the letter reads.
This morning, Wednesday, May 17, NWN Editor-in-Chief George Panoutsos filed an additional FOIA request to produce, at a minimum, the date, time, sender, and recipient of the redacted emails.
ADDITIONAL COACH ALLEGES HARASSMENT BY BOARD PRESIDENT
Allegations of bullying by Sproat went beyond just Konsewicz. Head girls softball coach Nicole Reynolds also alleges that Sproat attempted to use his influence as school board president against her. After hearing that Sproat’s daughter was choosing not to return to the girls softball team in order to play a different sport in the same season, Reynolds expressed her contentment that Sproat’s daughter would at least still be an athlete.
Following that, Sproat emailed Reynolds “a long list,” in which he alleged that she had convinced his daughter to quit and said that she was not a good softball player or wouldn’t put her on the team. Because of her knowledge of the situation with Konsewicz, Reynolds forwarded the email to Griffin. After Reynolds requested union representation in a meeting Sproat proposed between himself, Reynolds, and Ness, Sproat canceled the meeting allegedly upset that he could not have a meeting with Reynolds without her asking for a union representative to be present. The issue was never brought up again, although Reynolds regrets that she did not get to “say her piece.”
“He was, in not so many words, bullying me in an email about his daughter,” Reynolds said. “The trouble of it all was that no one, daughter, dad, came to me and let me know, ‘Hey, I’m not doing softball, I’m doing track.'”
During a phone interview on Monday, April 17, Sproat reiterated that he believes he is a parent first, and a school board member second.
“Sometimes people have issues differentiating [that] I am a parent first and a board member second, so therefore individuals can’t separate that; I can’t help that,” he said. “As far as the issues that have happened, anything that goes on with any of my kids, I have to step aside because of the fact that there are individuals that can’t understand that a board member can be a parent too. Therefore, my wife is the one that would talk to teachers, coaches, whomever it might be.”
ATHLETIC BUDGET PROTOCOL
According to Konsewicz, he and Sproat, who were classmates at Niles West, had enjoyed a friendly relationship before the situation with Sproat’s daughter escalated. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 girls basketball season, Konsewicz allegedly requested new basketballs and an iPad for coaching purposes in response to Sproat’s inquiry about the team’s needs. Sproat was elected school board president in Spring 2015.
“[Sproat] said, ‘What do you need?’ So I told Mark, ‘I could use some basketballs.’ He goes, ‘We will tell [former athletic secretary] Melana [Duric] to get those basketballs ordered.’ So low and behold, we only had $200 left in the [girls basketball] budget (basketballs are about $50 each), and I got a dozen of them. So we had friendly conversations,” Konsewicz said, noting that he did not receive the iPad he requested.
The board of education packet for Dec. 1, 2015 indicates on page 23 that the following purchase was made on Nov. 24, 2015: women’s basketballs for a total of $588 and $20 for shipping from Santos Sports Store.
According to assistant athletic director Terri Laux, the normal protocol concerning coaches’ requests for supplies begins in the spring of the previous year. Coaches needing additional equipment submit requests through the athletic director which then goes to the building principal, district administration, and, ultimately, the board of education for approval.
Reflecting on the implications of the controversy, Griffin spoke to the moral obligations education workers hold to their students and, by extension, themselves.
“As an athletic director, or any school administrator, if we are going to ask our kids to uphold certain standards and morals and things of that nature, and we need to be able to do the same,” Griffin said. “I would not be true to those students or student athletes that we ask to uphold to a code of conduct to a certain level of standards when they are representing our school and our programs if the adults don’t. So in that regard, I feel fully responsible for doing what I would ask kids to do so: be honest, be forthright, be truthful.”
Divitya Vakil contributed to this article.