MOUNT PULASKI – Questions surrounded the future of volleyball coach Donna Dulle's historic career at Mount Pulaski ahead of Monday night's school board meeting.
After the meeting, few of those questions were answered.
The school board passed a motion, 7-0, to table the discussion about Dulle's contract.
Dulle, entering her 36th year season, said she received a letter saying this will be her last as coach. Her contract had been set to expire after the 2019-20 season.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, 16 current players, former players, fans, faculty and letters from her peers were presented to the board, totaling close to 50 minutes in length.
Each speaker shared stories of Dulle's on-the-court and off-the-court contributions to the school, team and community. Those comments were part of the reason to table the discussion.
“I don't know when that will happen, but the reason we held off is because of all the public input tonight, that's all I'll say," Board President Doug Martin said.
A letter obtained by the Herald & Review, signed by Mount Pulaski Superintendent Todd Hamm, indicated the school board's plan to move in a different direction after this season.
“The Board discussed the volleyball program at the board meeting and there was general consensus that the district will move in a new direction following the end of the 2017-2018 season,” the letter read. “It is anticipated that the Board of Education will take action to non-renew your contract. The district will have two teacher opportunities that will enhance the opportunities to fill the position so we wanted to give you as much notice as possible to plan for that outcome.”
Dulle said she was under the impression prior to receiving the letter dated July 20 that she had three years remaining on her current contract.
“When I sat down and talked to them (when she retired from teaching in 2015), I was going to go for five years,” Dulle said. “That means I've got three years left to go. Then I got a contract stating that. Then within two days, I got a letter stating the board wanted to go in a new direction and this would be my last year.”
Dulle arrived to the library with an applause, and was showered with hugs at the end of the meeting.
“It just gives you goosebumps to realize that people are thankful enough, or that they think about you enough," Dulle said. "I just appreciate what everybody said or did. A lot of people came forward and I think the board needed to see that they're behind us. The board needs to know what we want and hopefully we'll see our way."
Second-year student manager Aidan Haigh, who spoke to the board, was among the more than 50 people packed into the library of the Mount Pulaski Elementary School, in favor of Dulle.
"She is someone you can count on to be there when she is needed," Haigh said. "She is also someone to seek help from when you are struggling or just need someone to talk to. Donna Dulle is not a coach that you will find everyday, but a once in a lifetime opportunity. She has a love for the sport that no other person will ever quite see."
Many speakers spoke out about Dulle's long list of career accomplishments at both the high school and junior high level.
In her 35-year career at Mount Pulaski, Dulle has led the Hilltoppers to state championships in 1989 and 2007 and eight second place finishes (1988, 1996, 2002-2004, 2009-2012). According to the IHSA website, Dulle is 1052-304 in her career for a 77.6 winning percentage.
Under her coaching, Mount Pulaski has 31 regional championships, including 24 straight from 1984-2007. She has led the team to 23 sectional plaques and 14 state final fours.
The seventh grade team is reigning IESA Class 2A champions, and members of that team spoke in support of Dulle along with members of the high school team.
High school standout Abigail Fitzpatrick and her mother, Chrissy, also joined to speak in favor of Dulle and her daughter, volunteer assistant Bethany.
Other speakers lauded Dulle's ability to bring and maintain a high-level tournament to Mount Pulaski -- the Mount Pulaski Fall Festival Tournament.
Gale Clark, who has taught with Dulle since 1997, and had a daughter on the 7th grade state championship team, shared an anecdote about Dulle and her impact on his family.
Clark's daughter, Cori, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, had never played volleyball and is confined to a wheelchair.
In Gale's first experience with Dulle as a coach, he learned more about the teacher than what he saw in the classroom -- Dulle added Cori to the team.
"She played club volleyball for two years with me holding her with carpenter knee pads," Gale said amidst applause from the crowd. "I wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for Donna. I just wouldn't have."
Michael Maus shared a story of his now-22-year-old step-son's experience with Dulle. When Maus' step-son was a senior, Maus described him as "socially awkward" with no intent of going to his senior prom. When he arrived at school the next day, Dulle had already purchased his prom ticket.
Stories similar to that resonated throughout the library, including stories of Dulle buying lunches at school for students, prom dresses and helping with homework. Faculty shared stories of Dulle going to them, asking how she could further assist a struggling student.
But Maus' message to close his speech rang loud and was greeted with applause.
"Let Donna finish what she started," Maus urged the board.
No decision was made as to when the board will revisit the topic, but the next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Dulle was insistent that when the season kicks off Aug. 29 against Williamsville, her focus will be to continue to produce winning volleyball teams.
"It's not about all that," Donna said. "It's about the kids playing volleyball and having fun doing it. The parents are supporting them and it's a family affair."