Richmond-Burton School District 157 Board won't renew Pat Elder's contract

Football coach, athletic director is facing felony DUI charge

The Richmond-Burton High School District 157 Board will not renew Pat Elder’s contract after he was charged in the summer in connection with an aggravated driving under the influence incident.

The decision came Wednesday night after more than 50 people spoke out in favor of keeping Elder, and the board deliberated in closed session for two and a half hours.

Elder served as the high school’s head football coach and athletic director since 2006, and he is facing a felony charge stemming from a summer DUI charge.

The board said at its regular meeting Wednesday night that it will not renew Elder’s contract for the 2018-19 school year. It also voted to post job openings for the head football coach and athletic director positions.

The board voted, 4-3, to not renew his contract. Secretary Michelle Graham, members Tom Gough and Tracey Highley and President Tom Holtz voted not to renew the contract, and Vice President Dave Thomas and members Joe Kiem and Christine Alvarado voted in favor of renewing it.

Many members of the crowd yelled in response, saying the board was “supposed to represent the community” and “the board will remember doing this.”

One person called the community to rally to raise funds for a lawyer to defend Elder for wrongful termination.

District 157 Superintendent Thomas Lind said Elder no longer will hold his position at the school beginning July 1. Lind said he did not know how much Elder earns.

Elder was charged July 15 with driving under the influence after Spring Grove police pulled him over on Route 173 as he drove east of Clark Road. Elder refused to take a breath test, and he was unable to complete field sobriety tests, according to police reports.

Assistant coaches Tad DePorter and Brett Zick acted as co-head coaches for the 2017 football season. Elder continued his athletic director duties.

Elder’s wife, Casey Elder, received a standing ovation at Wednesday’s meeting as she spoke in support of her husband.

Casey Elder talked of Pat Elder’s almost 12-year career and how while other schools struggled to build teams, Pat Elder had a cohesive environment that focused on not only athletic skills but mentoring supportive teammates. 

“One of the continual evolving reasons Pat was given for not being recommended for rehire is that he was unwilling and uncooperative to work with the rest of the administrative team,” Casey Elder said. “This may appear true when you are only given one side of the story, but Pat’s willingness to contribute – to making RBCHS a better place – cannot be questioned. That is reflected in the 11-year history of successful programs under his direction.”

Casey Elder said she finds it odd that after 11 years without a bad performance evaluation and no mention of unwillingness to work with a team, Pat Elder has found himself at odds with the administration this year.

“I would think that if past methods and opinions were at such odds, you would have heard about it before now,” she said. 

Elder’s football teams were 85-38 in 11 seasons and made the Class 4A playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons. Many people in the audience said they saw Elder attending all athletic games at the school and were amazed by his time commitment.

In 2008 and 2009, the Rockets made it to the state tournament semifinals. In 2011, they lost to Rochester, 42-39, in the Class 4A state championship game.

At the meeting, John Flood of Spring Grove read a letter from his son, John Flood Jr., who was captain of the football team during the 2011 championship game. 

“I failed him that day, but he loved me the same,” John Flood Jr. wrote. “I have failed him many times, but Coach Elder has never failed me. … He taught me you can make a mistake and not be judged forever by that mistake.” 

John Flood presented his son’s national championship ring from playing football at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to Casey Elder.

“It’s the most important possession of my life, but I want him to have it so that if he does lose his job, he knows it was not in vain,” John Flood Jr. wrote. 

Pat Elder could face up to seven years in prison or probation if convicted of aggravated driving under the influence, according to state law. If he were to be convicted and get probation, Pat Elder would be required to serve at least 10 days in jail or complete 480 hours of community service.

He also could lose driving privileges for at least 10 years, according to state law.

Pat Elder previously was found guilty of driving under the influence in connection with incidents in 1991 and 1995 in McClean County, according to online court records.

Mike Cosgrove, a former Richmond-Burton teacher, said Pat Elder’s past was fully disclosed when he was hired, and the board should not hold that against him. He asked the board to remember that the charges are allegations.

“Mr. Elder never stole anything from this institution or hurt any student,” Cosgrove said. “To not retain him would break all previous practices.”

When asked about the district’s policy on convicted versus charged incidents, Lind said he would not comment on personnel matters.

Pat Elder’s next court appearance is set for March 1.

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