More than 4,000 sign online petition to reinstate Lake Park football coach
More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the immediate reinstatement of Lake Park High School head football coach Chris Roll.
Roll was indefinitely suspended Oct. 25 pending the outcome of an internal investigation into why there wasn't a background check on a volunteer coach with the Roselle school's football team.
The shake-up continued days later when Lake Park High School District 108 placed Principal Dominic Manola and Athletic Director Pete Schauer on administrative leave.
The internal probe focuses on how Frank J. Battaglia was able to serve as a volunteer offensive line coach with this year's team. Battaglia, 72, was charged and later pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a high school girl in the early 1990s.
But a change.org petition started Saturday night by a group of parents urges the district to publicly apologize to Roll and admit "that the mistakes made to protect the students are consistent across the organization, and NOT focused on Chris Roll and the football team."
"The school board should realize it acted too swiftly and hastily with its decision to suspend Coach Chris Roll, especially on the morning of the last football game of the season," the petition reads. In addition, the petition says school board members should "own up to the fact that they unfairly targeted him for their mistakes."
District 108 officials said in a news release last week that the district requires criminal background checks and fingerprinting of all volunteers involved in co-curricular programs, including all athletics and activities.
"Head coaches and sponsors are required to submit a roster of volunteer and paid coaches to the Human Resources Department and Athletic Department authorizing criminal background checks," the news release said. "However, the district cannot proceed with a criminal-background check of a volunteer if the head coach or sponsor fails to submit the name of the volunteer."
Roll's supporters say in the online petition that policies and procedures weren't enforced at Lake Park.
"It is not right to blame one person for the faults of many, including the lack of ownership the administration clearly took in enforcing these policies," the petition reads. "Way too many LPHS volunteers have come forward to say that they were not vetted -- why focus on ONE person not being vetted when that number is in the hundreds and the lack of procedure runs across sports and activities?"
Tim Denman, an Itasca resident who has a son on the football team, is part of the group that started the petition. Denman said Roll supporters are planning to meet Wednesday night to discuss "other avenues" to put pressure on the board to reinstate the coach.
"The system is clearly flawed and the board is trying to use him as the scapegoat to clean up their mess," Denman said.
District spokeswoman Sherri Anderson said in an email Monday that human resources and associate principals are conducting the internal investigation.
"The district is trying to expeditiously complete its investigation while carefully balancing the release of information, maintaining the integrity of the investigation process, and ensuring due process for all parties involved," Anderson said.
Battaglia was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a girl between the ages of 13 and 16 in 1991 while she was a student at the former Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison.
Battaglia pleaded guilty in September 1992 to one count and was sentenced to 24 months of probation, ordered to pay more than $5,000 in restitution and ordered not to have contact with the girl or her family. He also was ordered not to coach school athletics during his probation.
His probationary period ended in November 1993 -- earlier than originally ordered. The law at that time did not require him to register as a sex offender because he was not considered a habitual offender. That law was changed in 1993, but it was not retroactive, authorities said.
Battaglia's name does not appear on the Illinois sex offender registry.
Battaglia started volunteering with Lake Park's football program this year. Parents say Battaglia was asked to step down when officials became aware of his background.
Roselle police and the DuPage County state's attorney's office both say they are not involved in the investigation.
Meanwhile, the online petition says Roll, who became Lake Park's head football coach in 2011, is "a man, coach and teacher of impeccable character."
"Please put an end to this suspension immediately and reinstate Chris Roll as the head varsity football coach at Lake Park," the petition reads. "The Lake Park students and this community cannot afford to lose Coach Chris Roll."
• Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report