Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Larry Yarbray case

In my print column the past couple of weeks, I've talked about the decisions I make every day as editor of a daily newspaper - and the fallout that sometimes results.

Even though I now spend an inordinate amount of time online, the most important decision I make most days continues to be what will appear on the front page of our print edition.

It's the first thing I think of every morning when my feet hit the floor, just before I flip on KYW Newsradio 1060 and make that first pot of coffee.

One thing you need to keep in mind. Something is going to appear on our front page every day. We don't take days off. We create a print edition 365 times a year, even while seemingly updating our website about 365 times a day.

Some days the decision as to what appears on our front page is easier than others - for a lot of different reasons.

For instance, I was pretty sure yesterday morning that today's front page would like almost exactly the way it does, thanks in no small part to our photographer Julia Wilkinson. We dispatched Julia and reporter Jeff Wolfe to Citizens Bank Park yesterday to take in the party of opening day for the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. I could not have drawn a better image for our front page than the one that graces it today from Julia, featuring a group of beaming Phillies fans from Delaware County.

Too bad the Phils then proceeded to stink up the place.

I wish every day was that easy.

Some days the decision on Page One probably has some readers scratching their heads. This is the most important story in the world today? Maybe not. But it's the one that we honed in on here in Delaware County. Keep that in mind. Our lead story is almost always going to be tied to something happening here in Delco. That's what we do. Sure, we also give our readers a rundown of what is going on in the nation and world, but our mission, what we do that no one else can match, is capture the previous 24 hours of life in Delco.

There are two other kinds of days I should address here. One would be the deadly slow news day when we're desperately looking for a lead. Those are the days that might lead to second-guessing on the part of readers. I don't blame them. In fact I often find myself discussing Page One with readers when they call.

The other is the one that undoubtedly causes me the most angst. It's the one that takes that knife that seems to be permanently plunged into my gut and gives it a good twist. It is the front page that I know is going to cause an uproar in the community. It's part of the job, one I've come to grips with over the years. I know that most days I will make a lot of people angry with our front page. Sometimes it's unintentional. Sometimes it's not.

Last Friday was all of these things.

Up until around 3 o'clock, we were scrambling for a Saturday lead.

Then we got a call from the Chester Township police. They had made an arrest in a domestic incident that ended in an alleged assault.

So what's the big deal, you might ask?

The person arrested was Larry Yarbray.

If you're still wondering what the big deal is, you're clearly not a fan of high school hoops, specifically the unmatched excellence of Chester High hoops.

For the last seven years, the man at the helm of the Chester High program has been Larry Yarbray.

But he's just a high school basketball coach, you might respond.

Larry Yarbray is not just any basketball coach. He's the head coach of the Chester Clippers, probably the most successful high school basketball program in the state.

The allegations in the charges are ugly. But I'd caution you to remember that they are only charges.

Yarbray was charged with first-degree aggravated assault, felony criminal trespass and endangering the welfare of children. The charges stem from an incident involving a woman described as his girlfriend and her son. Both allegedly wound up bruised.

According to the police complaint, Yarbray had been involved in an argument Thursday night, then returned Friday morning. That's when police arrived. They say Yarbray told them "nothing had happened" and the alleged female victim was "overreacting."

I was afraid readers would have the same reaction when they saw Saturday's front page. It featured a photo of Yarbray on the sidelines exhorting his team, with the headline, "Hoops coach faces charges."

We tried to reach Yarbray but messages left on his cell phone were not returned. I certainly wanted to hear his side of the story. Yes, there are always two, the one in the police report, and the other side. We try to get both.

On Tuesday, we heard from his defense attorney, who said his client is "adamantly denying" the charges and is "looking forward to defending himself in court."

It's kind of ironic, the man who preached defense on the court now will have to defend himself in a court of law. I also wondered what kind of reaction would come from the Chester Upland School District. Yarbray is not a member of the Chester Upland staff; he is simply contracted to coach the basketball team.

Yesterday we heard from Superintendent Gregory Shannon.

"Wa have been informed that the boys basketball coach has been arrested and the situation that led to his arrest is under investigation," Shannon said. "We need to let the judicial system take its course. I do want to point out that the coach is not an employee of the Chester Upland School District, but is paid by stipend. Since the basketball season is over, he is not now involved with our schools."

Whether or not Yarbray, who has compiled a 156-27 mark at Chester High and captured two PIAA AAAA titles, is back next year no doubt will be determined by the outcome of the case.

It is a horrible situation, a man who serves as role model and mentor to kids and a school district that desperately needs them, now finds himself accused of serious criminal conduct.

Obviously if Yarbray is convicted or enters any kind of plea, he will not be able to continue to serve as the head of Chester High hoops.

For now, he is not suspended or anything else. I assume the district will simply wait as the wheels of justice start to turn and work its way through the case.

I've met Larry Yarbray several times. I like him. I was stunned when I heard these charges.

I am guessing I'm not the only one.

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