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Lake School officials cited a pattern of failing to enforce punishment for disciplinary issues as the reason for the dismissal of Lake football coach Jim Kubuske last week. But the veteran coach said a one-time error of judgment led to his removal.
Kubuske, who served as the Flyers coach for nine years, did not have his contract renewed at the Lake school board meeting on June 13. The board acted on recommendations from the athletic director, principal and superintendent.
Lake athletic director Dave Shaffer said the decision was based on "a continuation of a failure to follow procedure and policies."
"It was not one incident," Shaffer said. "He failed to follow school policies and procedures in the past and he showed a continuing trend."
The latest rules violation occurred earlier this month when Josh Hillabrand, who will be a junior this fall, was injured in the locker room while fooling around with teammates. Kubuske was not present at the time, but later took Hillabrand to the hospital. He reported the accident to Hillabrand's parents, but did not report it to Lake officials.
"It was never reported and I'm not sure if there was ever an intention to report it," Shaffer said. "In fact, it was not reported to school officials at all. It was brought to my attention by one of the parents.
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Enough is enough."
But Kubuske, who has been a high school coach for 27 years, contends that he was never given the chance to implement "a discipline ladder" that he proposed last fall.
"I was shocked," Kubuske said. "In my last evaluation in November they mentioned their concern with the discipline on the team. So I came up with a discipline ladder that I was going to implement. They thought it was a good idea and approved it."
Kubuske said he was teaching class at the junior high when the incident occurred and did not learn of it until hours later. The high school students were on a half-day schedule due to exams.
"There was some horseplay in the locker room. He was pushed into a locker and he cut his elbow," Kubuske said. "None of the coaches knew about it. Part of [the administration's] concern was that I should have been there. But I was in class."
Later that day, Hillabrand, who had tried to take care of the cut at his home, returned to the school and showed Kubuske the injury.
"He showed me his elbow and I told him he needed stitches," Kubuske said. "I put him in my car, called his parents and took him to [St. Charles Mercy Hospital]."
Kubuske said Hillabrand's father was at the hospital where Hillabrand received three stitches.
"I questioned him and he told me it was horseplay. His mom and dad were satisfied," Kubuske said. "It didn't happen at practice, so I didn't fill out an accident form. In hindsight, that was my mistake. I should have filled out the paper work."
Kubuske also said he was going to hand out punishment when the season began in the fall.
"I was going to show the kids first hand how the disciplinary ladder worked," Kubuske said.
Hillabrand agreed: "We figured he would be able to take care of the punishment when the season came around. But he never got the opportunity."
Kubuske said a week later Schaffer told him he was not satisfied with how he handled the incident and that he would recommend that his contract not be renewed.
"I was going to be renewed in May," Kubuske said. "It ultimately came down to the one incident."
Hillabrand implored the school board to reconsider the recommendation of dismissal at the meeting last week. He said that he feels directly responsible for Kubuske's departure.
"I feel they used my incident to fire him," Hillabrand said. "My actions, the actions of a 16-year-old, cost a man his job.
"This is far from fair for a man who has given so much to the school and the football program."
Hillabrand also is a member of the hockey program which the school board decided to shelve at the same meeting.
Hillabrand said he is considering transferring.
"I told him it is not his fault," Kubuske said. "I told him there are more things to life than this. I should have handled it better."
Jim's wife, Jesse, who also is a teacher in the Lake school district, spoke for her husband at the board meeting.
"Jim could not speak on his own behalf because he was coaching in a football camp that night," Jesse Kubuske said. "He's done great things for Lake. He's well liked and well respected. We were devastated."
Shaffer refutes claims that Kubuske was let go because of one recent incident.
"It is in no way Josh's fault and he should not bear the brunt of this incident," Shaffer said. "He was told by the board members that it was in no way his fault."
One issue cited was the large number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on the team last season. In particular, the team was heavily penalized in a season-ending game against rival Genoa.
Shaffer said the two met in the fall and Kubuske proposed the discipline ladder with categories for different violations that called for specific penalties. For example, fighting carried a three-game suspension.
"It looked like a good starting point. But this was his first chance to implement it and he didn't," Shaffer said.
In his nine-year tenure, Kubuske had turned the Flyers program around. Before his arrival in 1998, Lake had won a total of six games in six seasons. Kubuske led the Flyers to a Suburban Lakes League title in 2001 and two state playoff berths.
Kubuske survived a heart attack during the 2005 season. He underwent quintuple bypass surgery and came back to coach last fall. He also had to deal with many player transfers with the district's financial struggles due to a string of levy failures. Last season, Lake went 1-9 with a roster that was hit hard by defections. The Flyers were 5-4 in 2005.
Shaffer said it will be difficult to find a new coach with the season just two months away.
"We weighed the pros and cons and it was the decision of the administration," Shaffer said.
Superintendent Jim Witt could not be reached for comment.
Shaffer said there are four applicants for the position and that officials will begin conducting interviews next week.
"Jim's a friend of mine," Shaffer said. "It was a very difficult decision. We wanted to make it as painless as we could for him. I hope he can find a place down the road."
Kubuske said he hopes to land an assistant coaching position, and that five coaches, including those at programs in the SLL and Northern lakes League, have contacted him.
It would be the first time in nearly three decades that Kubuske did not hold a head coaching position. He has coached at Avon Lake, New London, New Lexington, Indiana Valley and Brookside.
"I hope to latch onto a good program," he said. "I enjoy the coaching part of it and I'd like to continue my 27 years of coaching."
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