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Another on-the-field controversy has pushed its way into the courtroom. This time, Morris, Ill., attorney Randolph M. Gordon filed on Oct. 27 a $1 million libel suit on behalf of Morris High School’s football coach Dan Darlington, alleging that a colleague wrongly accused him in a letter of repeated unsportsmanlike conduct. And, then, noting that the offending letter also criticized the school board with not acting responsibly in the matter, one of the board members has now joined in the suit as a plaintiff. James Dan Darlington and Charlie Clemmons v. Dan Bertrand, Charles McCormick and Kaneland Community Unit School District, No. 2000 L 64 According to the pleadings already filed in the 13th Judicial Circuit, the legal battle ostensibly started when Dan Bertrand, the principal of Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Ill., wrote a letter to the president of the Suburban Prairie Conference that read in part: “Since joining the conference four years ago, I have heard stories from member schools about Coach Darlington committing unsportsmanlike conduct towards players, fans, officials and coaches.” However, the letter, which was also faxed to each high school principal in the conference, was apparently triggered by Darlington’s alleged misconduct during a particular game last year against Glenbard South of Glen Ellyn, Ill., in which he received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first 30 seconds and was ejected. The Illinois Coach’s Hall of Fame inductee served a one-game suspension, and the Illinois High School Association’s review process ceased. But, in reality, and unlike Indiana University’s Bobby Knight or Ohio State University’s Woody Hayes who had been regularly involved in very public temper tantrums and sometimes disciplined for them, the Glenbard South incident and resulting penalty represented the first official action ever taken against the legendary high school coach. “The IHSA had a meeting with the high school and took no more action. Their records showed no complaints filed against Coach Darlington in his 24 years as Morris’ football coach,” Gordon said. Darlington’s libel lawsuit also alleges that Bertrand “attempted to circumvent the authority of the duly elected Morris High School Board of Education.” Without knowing all the facts, the complaint states, Bertrand referred to the board’s decision not to take further action against their coach after the Glenbard South game as an “enabling response.” As a result of those “fighting words,” board member Charlie Clemmons joined the suit as an individual plaintiff. Contrary to Bertrand’s statement, Gordon insists the school board conducted a thorough investigation of the Glenbard South incident, held a special meeting, and simply decided there was no cause to take any further action. “Bertrand did not attend the game and wasn’t even the principal of the opposing school of the game in question,” Gordon said on Tuesday. “We’d have a lot less problem if it was [Glenbard South's principal]. Bertrand did have the right to ask for an investigation, but he has no right to libel our coach and our administration.” Gordon seemed convinced that his initial demand was fair. “It’s humiliating. The letter went out to every administration in the conference. This has been talked about for the past year. He is a teacher and had been coach of the year. It’s embarrassing.” Bertrand could not be reached for comment at the Kaneland High School Office.

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