Now, nearly two months later, Lee's status is the same. He's still collecting a district paycheck, but cannot teach, coach or even step foot on WCSD property. This investigation and decision on Lee's fate is taking way too long.
Sparks, the defending 3A state champion in boys basketball, has fared relatively well with Lee away. The Railroaders are 5-3 on the season with a trio of wins over 4A opponents. Assistant coach Mike Jones has filled in admirably as the head coach under obviously less-than-perfect circumstances. The SHS hoopsters are set to open 3A North, Tahoe League play Saturday at South Tahoe.
It would be nice if Lee could be there for it but that doesn't appear likely. I've heard multiple versions — all off the record — of the sequence of events that led to Lee being put on administrative leave. None of them seem worthy of an investigation that takes two months and leaves a respected coach's future in doubt.
I remember an instance four years ago where one of the district's most successful and well-known coaches was accused of hitting two players. He was suspended for a game and allowed to return.
So why has Lee been left in limbo for so long? I've known Lee for 14 years. I'd vouch for him time and again. He is a great high school basketball coach with a keen knowledge and understanding of the game. More importantly, he knows how to get players to improve and run his system. Due to demographic challenges and financial limitations at Sparks High, any coach who can succeed there deserves a little extra appreciation.
There is no reason Sparks High and Lee should have to wait two months or more for a decision. In mid-December, Lee had a meeting with district officials and was told he'd have an answer on his future within a week. That week came and passed along with a few more. I believe that district bureaucrats are doing SHS officials, Lee and taxpayers a disservice by not acting more diligently in this matter.
Lee deserves better than to be left in limbo. I'm sure he'd like to hear he can return to his teaching and coaching jobs. But ultimately, even if that's not the decision, he'd just like to know his fate so he can make decisions best for him and his future.
I also understand district officials have not even communicated with Sparks High administrators about where the district sits in the decision-making process. SHS leaders are the ones dealing with the shortage of a full-time teacher and an interim basketball coach. They at least deserve to know how the district is acting and what kind of timeline is in play. In short, they deserve some professional courtesy in the form of communication.
Lastly, the longer this plays out, the longer taxpayers foot the bill for both a long-term substitute teacher and Lee's salary. In a time of economic crisis, where we hear daily about the budget challenges of school leaders statewide, we should demand that they make more timely decisions.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying rush to judgment. I just know how the district has handled similar scenarios. This situation has not been handled in the smartest or most efficient manner.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune's sports editor. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org