Lake Park's Roll speaks out about his firing as coach
Chris Roll doesn't know how many times he was asked the question -- a lot -- but he always returned to the same answer.
"Everyone asked me to tell my version of the story publicly and counter what people were saying about me," he said. "I decided very quickly there would be no gain from that.
"All it was going to do was extend the fighting."
Four months later, Roll is finally speaking out.
The former Lake Park football coach is telling his story for the first time since being fired from his position in November after Lake Park administrators determined Roll failed to request a background check on a volunteer assistant who in the early 1990s pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual abuse of a high-school girl.
There is a defense for his role in what happened, Roll said, although he declined to speak on the record with the details.
But the man who has given the bulk of his life to Lake Park -- a 1991 graduate who's taught and coached at the Roselle school for 24 years -- wants people to know how this process transformed himself, his wife Kara, who also teaches at Lake Park, and their two children who attended Lake Park.
"Nobody knows what we went through," he said. "Everyone has an opinion on what happened and what should have happened but no one had to go through it themselves."
Although the fallout from the removal of volunteer assistant coach Frank Battaglia hung in the air during the week of the season finale, Oct. 25 seemed like a normal game day for Lake Park's football team.
Around noon that Friday, though, Roll learned he was being suspended for his failure to submit the proper paperwork on Battaglia. Until the investigation was complete, he'd also be suspended from teaching.
As the story gained extended life in the media, Roll hunkered down with his family.
"It was such an emotional couple of weeks," he said. "The public nature of it all was difficult. At a certain point it was just time to move forward one way or another."
Thousands of supporters signed an online petition in favor of Roll's reinstatement. Many spoke on his behalf during a meeting of the District 108 school board. He received messages of support from, among others, retired Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Western Michigan coach Tim Lester and former Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, who coached Roll at Indiana University.
"It kept my name clean while I couldn't say anything," Roll said. "I had people fighting for my name, and I'm grateful for that."
Two weeks later Roll returned to teaching but was fired as head football coach after nine years at the helm. The investigation also uncovered recruiting violations, for which Roll was suspended from coaching for the upcoming season.
With his fate settled, Roll began to rebuild.
"The first step was getting back in the building and in the classroom, and getting back to teaching," he said.
"I don't want to be in a Lake Park uniform anymore."
Peter Roll, a sophomore on the varsity football team, said that to his dad the day after Roll was fired as they drove up to Michigan State to be with Kate, Peter's older sister.
Tough words to clear the throat.
Chris Roll's parents met while attending Lake Park. Much of the extended family went there. Kate graduated from there a year ago.
The roots are deep but Peter's mind was set.
"I was just so angry," he said. "I didn't want to leave. One of my favorite things was getting to play for my dad."
Peter, who also plays basketball and competes in track and field, and his parents worked to find a new high school for his final two years. They chose Nazareth and football coaching friend Tim Racki.
Assuming the IHSA approves an eligibility request, Peter will play there in the fall. If not, the family will move out of the district to meet eligibility requirements.
"I'm sure people think we're running away from this and we're not teaching Pete a good lesson, that he should stick it out," Chris Roll said. "They don't get what it felt like. It's healthier for everyone for us to do it this way."
The dust kicks up occasionally but it's mostly settled.
Thanks in part to the support of Lake Park administrators like principal Dominic Manola, and assistant principals Tim Noverini and Phil Wright, Chris and Kara Roll are fully focused on their teaching duties. Peter looks forward to his future at Nazareth while hoping track and field season resumes this spring. Kate is wrapping up her freshman year at college from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The list of regrets and what-could-have-beens still exists but it's manageable.
And moving on isn't just a thought. It's a reality.
"Sometimes stepping back, you learn a little bit about yourself," Chris Roll said. "I'm thankful for time passing, and I'm thankful there are new things to think about and work on."