February 26, 2014 - There was a question posted recently on a local Facebook page concerning Lake Orion Schools and its coaches.
The question asked if it is better to have a coach with integrity or one that has a winning program.
The Lake Orion schools administration has answered the question very clearly.
They chose winning over integrity.
I hope that you will read the story written by Meg Peters on the front page of The Review this week about cheerleading coach Nancy De Avila to understand what I am talking about.
De Avila was charged last week with embezzlement from a fund designed to provide scholarships money to Lake Orion students who wanted to pursue college or other opportunities in cheerleading, arts and cosmetology.
The fund was generously set up by the parents of Natalie Rae Nance, who was a 2003 graduate of Lake Orion High School and was tragically killed in an auto accident when she was 21. Natalie was a cheerleader on De Avila's squad at Lake Orion.
In recent years, De Avila had some financial control of the scholarship fund.
Money from the scholarship fund was discovered missing in early November 2013. Nance and another couple initially reportedly tried to get De Avila to tell them why the fund was so short of cash. Instead, they were allegedly stonewalled and then De Avila began putting money back into the fund, according to police.
When the Nances went to the Oakland County Sheriff's Department in early December, an investigation began.
What police learned was that about $22,000 was taken although De Avila apparently tried to pay back about $9,000.
Detectives contacted Lake Orion School officials in December because they were unsure if De Avila also might have access to any school funds.
According to police, school officials at that point knew of the alleged embezzlement and even De Avila's tacit admission of it by the fact that she attempted to pay back $9,000.
Yet they continued to let her serve as the school's varsity competitive cheer coach.
Well, by all accounts, De Avila is a very good coach and well-liked by her team. Last season she led the competitive cheer team to a district championship and this season she did the same. School officials even presented her with a bouquet of flowers following her being named as the district coach of the year recently.
Following the district championship, De Avila resigned from the program and was arraigned on embezzlement charges.
Her daughter, who had been the assistant coach, was then appointed by the school administration to continue coaching the team, which this week will compete in the state championships in Grand Rapids.
Her daughter is also a good coach but it seems like a slap in the face to the Nances who would now have to work with a De Avila family member in future scholarship fund matters. The loss of scholarship funds also hurts those who would have received money to help them.
Obviously, no one in the school's athletic administration thought De Avila's actions warranted firing in December, January or February.
Why not? Was winning more important than integrity? What kind of message does this send to the students?
I'm not buying any argument that says administrators were waiting for charges to be filed. There was tacit admission by the fact that De Avila paid $9,000 back to the fund.
School officials are not bound by any sort of necessity for criminal charges to be filed before they can dismiss a coach. Within the past year, there were at least two other Lake Orion coaches dismissed for alleged improprieties that did not lead to criminal charges.
But, those coaches didn't have winning seasons.
I have been very impressed with many of the coaches I have watched at Lake Orion, including varsity football Coach Chris Bell, who always delivers a message of love, togetherness and integrity to his football team after each and every game.
It is embedded in his post-game message and in watching the intense look in those boys' eyes, they clearly take it to heart. They grasp Bell's message of love and integrity.
I wish this message was delivered by every coach and the administration.
Sadly, it's not.