PHS coach arrest should spark open dialogue with athlete children

news-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock

Texting and driving is estimated to cause over 3,000 crashes each year in Florida.

Ken Jackson
The Sports Column

The news that came down the end of last week with a high school girls basketball coach arrested under the black cloud of suspected improper behavior, including unwanted advances and sharing improper photos, with a student and player gave the community cause for pause and reflection.

The Poinciana High program, with a brand-new principal on board and without an athletic director due to personnel moves at the start of the year within the school district, is working with school officials to get an interim coach to get the Eagles through the end of the regular season this week and into next week’s district playoffs.

As the coach involved has yet to have a court hearing and has only been charged by police because of the suspicion and probable cause that things allegedly happened with a player, we’ll leave names out of this, in order for the justice system to properly run its course. An internet search would fill in those holes quickly.

After doing some digging, and talking to coaches, parents and former players — some whom are two or all three of those — I can say that it sounds like, around here, this is an isolated issue that has been dealt with swiftly thanks to active parents and protective authorities.

As the parent of a pre-teen daughter who is involved in athletics, I’m concerned. I’m shocked, as is the community, and with the Larry Nassar sexual assault case recently completing at Michigan State, many people are very sensitive now about the subject. And since , people probably aren’t as outraged as they’d normally be .

It doesn’t take having a daughter, or being a coach, or being otherwise involved in the game, to hope that, around here, this is the last time.

Last week’s situation was dealt with quickly. A parent noticed their child was bought a new phone, saw it as a red flag, and reportedly decided to pay for it, according to a police report. It opened up a dialogue with school officials and law enforcement, which resulted in the implicated coach leaving the school and being brought up on charges over just a couple days.

“I ask people with that kind of information to report it. When we get that regarding vulnerable citizens like our children,” said Osceola County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Maj. Jacob Ruiz regarding how quickly things transpired last week. “We need to remove that threat as soon as possible. Our school resource personnel acted quickly.

“Those are signs, when your child is coming home with expensive items, of a red flag. It was uncomfortable enough for the student not to want to report it. We ask for those responsible for our children to say something so there can be intervention.”

Osceola County is blessed with solid, positive male influences and coaches working with other girls basketball programs, like Chad Ansbaugh at St. Cloud, Paul Strauch at Harmony, Beltran Munoz at Celebration, and Dewrie Buggs at City of Life Christian.

Ansbaugh and Buggs coach their own daughters on their teams. Buggs, who has been involved in travel basketball teams as well, said he’s always always had open communication with his daughters.

“Parents need to look out for touchy-feely type things from the people they trust their children with,” he said. “Teenagers are getting better at hiding things. But when you see a change in their behavior around them, that needs to be a red flag.”

Open communication is one thing at home. In the gym (in the basketball case), coaches who know where to draw the line between proper and improper behavior is another thing.

Adult coaches should act like adults, said Osceola girls coach Sarah DiLeonardo, who sees this topic from every side imaginable, as a former high school, travel ball and college player and as a high school and college coach.

She said, in her career, she hadn’t seen any behavior that would throw up such a concerning red flag, and is trying to keep what she hears about the Poinciana incident as rumor.

“This certainly caught me off guard,” she said, noting Osceola and Poinciana are scheduled to meet tonight in the Kowgirls’ Senior Night game. “It’s a coach’s job to make our players better people, not just better athletes. That needs to be the focus.

“Parents put their trust in us, so you have to be a role model. It’s a tough spot to be in, but you have to be an adult who just knows there’s a definite line that you do not cross.”

Hopefully, Poinciana’s Lady Eagles get through this.

And, just the same, parents — and coaches — can re-learn something they should already know from this.