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East St. Louis basketball coach says player cost him job

“The sad thing about it is, the very kid that these adults think they’re helping, they’re damaging beyond repair,” Coleman said.

“He has the potential to do great things in the classroom and on the court. It sends the wrong message to players if they can manipulate the system and not play by the rules. It’s a sad situation wthere responsible adults sit back and allow this thing to happen.”

Munson, who averaged 19.7 points to lead the Flyers, was benched for five games to start the season and benched by Coleman two other times. Coleman said he was suspended by the school for refusing to play Munson and other players he had disciplined. He also said he was told not to check with teachers how his players were doing in class.

In a March 27 letter to Coleman, signed by East St. Louis principal Jethro Brown and athletics director Leonard Manley, Coleman was commended for his team’s success but told he would not be recommended as the coach “based on the relationship and actions you had with the administration, parents, assistant coaches and players.”

Manley did not respond to messages. A call to Brown was referred to Manley. Munson’s mother, Latasha Clark, said Coleman had unfairly singled her son out.

“It’s a good thing he’s not being asked back,” Clark said. “I think it’s a good thing for the kids. They won’t have anybody in their heads anymore. The kids won’t be fighting each other. DeShawn didn’t get him fired. He got himself fired, and he’s blaming it all on one kid.”

Phillip Lockhart, a junior guard who is one of the team captains, said Coleman’s discipline helped him.

“My sophomore year, I didn’t get a lot of playing time because I wasn’t dedicated to the team,” Lockhart said. “I was wondering why I didn’t get to play and I was mad about it. Coach kept on me, and I went from getting D’s and C’s my sophomore year to B’s and C’s my junior year.”

Tiffany Snow, the aunt of forward Johnny McCray, said Coleman helped her nephew get through the Jan. 17 death of McCray’s mother, Socorro Snow.

“He helped Johnny with going to school and doing his work,” Snow said. “He was doing good as long as he was under coach’s wing. He’s the only person that put him back on track.”

Coleman said he intends to meet with East St. Louis superintendent Arthur Culver on Tuesday.

“He’s a very reasonable guy, a very spiritual guy,” Coleman said. “I believe he has the kids’ best interests at heart. Whatever decision he makes, I’m going to honor that.”

Coleman is the brother-in-law of former Iowa, Washington State and Southern California coach George Raveling. In 2009, Coleman wrote The Obama Phenomenon, a book that details his experience working with Obama on his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004. A native of Belleview, Ill., Coleman said his politics and outspokeness has rubbed some the wrong way.

“I’ve paid a heavy price for trying to be an independent thinker,” he said. “I’ve been called a gadfly, and people say I’m too controversial. No matter how I try to be patient, I’ll still be too controversial to some people. But we’re beginning to accept wrong for right. I’ve been successful. If I was losing and I was considered too overbearing, they would have a better case.”

The East St. Louis school district has had it share of recent controversy. The school is under partial control by the state because of its failure to live up to the guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Christopher Koch, the superintendent of Illinois schools, said he intends to dissolve the East St. Louis school board, which is elected, in the next 60 days for not acting in students’ best interests, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In 2010, the Illinois High School Association, stripped East St. Louis of 16 football wins in 2009 and ’10 because it used an ineligible player who had been charged with armed robbery.

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