At T.C. Williams, Parents, Coaches in Power Play Over Lacrosse

By Jeff Nelson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sitting at one end of her dining room table, in a charming suburban home less than a mile from T.C. Williams High School, Gail Gordon needs about a half-hour to recount the year-long chain of events that began as a disagreement over control of the school lacrosse program's booster club and escalated into a bitter dispute that continued through the resignation of the boys' coach, the removal of the girls' coach and the transfer of Gordon's daughter, Kendall Gordon, to a boarding school two hours away.

At one point during Gordon's story, her daughter stops by to listen. But after a few minutes, the 17-year-old declines to be interviewed and heads to the kitchen, walking past photos of herself in lacrosse and field hockey uniforms. Kendall says she doesn't want to talk about leaving T.C. Williams this past spring, shortly before the end of her junior year. And she doesn't want to comment on what it will be like in the fall, when she begins repeating her junior year.

As Kendall grabs a snack, Gail Gordon begins sorting through documents that portray the acrimony that developed between the coaches and certain parents. In one e-mail, boys' coach Charley Juris details a plan to wrest control of the booster club from its officers by stuffing a ballot box "Chicago style." In another, girls' lacrosse coach and physical education teacher Jill Clacherty tells her assistant coach that booster club President Maggie Fitzsimmons "needs to be punched in the face!!!!"

Juris, who did not teach at the school, has since resigned as coach. Clacherty was removed during the season, a decision she is appealing. An Alexandria public schools spokeswoman said Clacherty is on administrative leave, pending the case's resolution.

Regardless of the appeal's outcome, Gordon said she thinks her daughter will be better off someplace else.

"I know getting her out of the T.C. environment will be the best thing; there's nothing to be gained by staying at T.C.," Gordon said. "I've lost all respect for the administration, and as far as I'm concerned, they failed to protect my daughter."

Going Head to Head

T.C. Williams, the only public high school in the city of Alexandria, does not have a single overriding booster club for its athletic program, but rather individual clubs dedicated to each sport. Last summer, the lacrosse boosters were looking for volunteers, and Gordon, a general counsel for an IT services firm, became treasurer.

She said she thought that her responsibilities would be relatively mundane: participating in meetings, helping with the fundraising mulch sale, disbursing money to the teams. But, she said, she soon found out otherwise.

"This wasn't a nickel-and-dime operation," said Fitzsimmons, who had a son on the boys' team and became boosters president in fall 2007. "There was $15,000, $16,000 with little or no accounting of the money coming in or going out, and I thought for everybody's protection, we needed to be a little more formal going forward."

Gordon agreed, especially after repeated clashes with the coaches over their requests for booster club funds. In one example, Juris wanted money to purchase equipment for a freshman team he planned to create. But because it would be a club not affiliated with the school, Gordon said, private insurance needed to be sought because of possible liability issues.

"We can't go around handing out equipment; what if it's defective?" Gordon said. "I'm thinking like an anal lawyer, but that's what I've got to do. Charley didn't like that."

Juris and Clacherty proposed several changes to the booster club's bylaws, which proved to be problematic, Gordon and Fitzsimmons said. The original bylaws, created with the club in 2000, did not include provisions for amendments.

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