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Hillcrest coach’s penalty angers, bewilders backers

Hillcrest coach John Maniatis directs his players as they take WheatNorth. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media

Hillcrest coach John Maniatis directs his players as they take on Wheaton North. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2014 6:51AM



John Maniatis was grim-faced and quiet.

Midnight had struck on his 20-year career at Hillcrest High School as a social studies teacher and leader of a successful girls basketball program.

The Hall of Fame coach silently walked out of the Bremen High School library late Thursday night with his lawyer and loved ones after the District 228 school board voted 6-1 to suspend him without pay with the intent to end his employment.

On Friday, District 228 Supt. Bill Kendall would not divulge details regarding the five reasons cited by the board for suspending Maniatis,

“It’s more than one thing, but we can’t come forward on those points,” Kendall said.

Maniatis, 46, declined to comment Friday on the board’s decision, offering only his feelings in light of having to leave the school that had shaped his coaching and teaching career.

“I’m numb, nauseated and very distraught,” he said. “That’s really all I can say. If anything, I have to look ahead, look forward.”

In his immediate future is resolving a drunken driving charge stemming from an April 4 stop in Frankfort in which he allegedly failed field sobriety tests and was arrested. A court hearing was rescheduled for Tuesday after Maniatis’ attorneys obtained a continuance Thursday.

The board’s decision at Thursday night’s special meeting came after members heard comments from the public in support of Maniatis and then met in closed session for four hours. The announcement of the disciplinary action angered his supporters, many of whom had stayed late to learn of the board’s decision.

One father of two current Hillcrest students railed at the board members and indicated that he would consider transferring his daughters to another school. Other supporters, many of them former players, milled about for several minutes, stunned that the Hall of Fame coach they often called “Mr. M” was not given a chance to address the school board’s concerns.

“I’m not going to lie. I thought perhaps our speeches (in his defense) had made some sort of impact,” former player Janelle Hughes said Friday. “And them (the board) saying that there were five counts. That was from left field. And for them to not go any further with an explanation was probably even worse.”

Prior to meeting in closed session, the board heard from 15 speakers about the positive impact that Maniatis had on their lives and the Hillcrest community.

“He’s been like a father to me,” Brianna Dunlap said before the board went into the closed session. “It hurts my heart to see him go through this. To consider even letting him go with all of the accomplishments he’s had … uh-uh.”

Word of Maniatis’ suspension and pending dismissal spread quickly through the Southland coaching community, of which Maniatis was one of the senior members.

“I’m saddened,” Lincoln-Way East girls basketball coach Jim Martin said. “All I can really say is John is a well-respected coach among other coaches and officials. He has always put his players first and worked hard to make them the best player and person possible.”

“John was a passionate coach and really cared about the girls he coached,” Marist girls coach Mary Pat Connolly said. “... John made sure academics came first and basketball second, to use basketball as an avenue to receive a college degree. I wish (him) the best.”

Maniatis’ lawyer, Kelly Cartwright, said Thursday night they are considering appealing his penalty to the Illinois State Board of Education.

On April 26, Maniatis was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His career record of 487-100 record includes 15 regional, seven sectional and three supersectional titles. In 2010 and ’11, his Hawks teams finished second in the state in Class 3A and returned to the state finals for a third consecutive season in 2012, finishing third.



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