The devil arrives pushing a baby stroller.
Dressed in fashionable shorts, snappy sandals and a black linen shirt, he shakes hands with parents, hugs cheerleaders and parks his future goddaughter in the front row of Bishop Lynch High School's Roffino Stadium. Hardly looks the part of a lightning rod that has conquered, divided and paralyzed one of the country's most revered middle-school athletic leagues. But that is Satan, right?
Who else could so polarize the Dallas Parochial League—the area's most prestigious Catholic sports association—into a group of staunch supporters willing to pull their children from athletics to support him versus a gaggle of administrators so vengeful they levy multiple suspensions, boycott games and implement pre-teens as pawns in their political power play against him?
Kevin Keane, that's who.
Admittedly not a saint. But definitely not Beelzebub.
"You either love Kevin or hate him," says Jon Banister, whose son, Robert, has played for Keane since 2001. "But everything he does for the kids is positive. He's done nothing to deserve being attacked. What's going on is ridiculous, absolutely embarrassing. My son is losing interest in sports and, after this, may not play again. We're supposed to be a Christian organization, but we're certainly not acting like it."
After resigning a week earlier as football coach of St. Mark's Catholic School in Plano (which is not related to St. Mark's School of Texas), Keane is in the stands Wednesday night for the eighth-grade game against St. Pius. Did he quit as an admission of guilt or merely surrender after years of first-class blackballing by the Diocese of Dallas?
"It's disgusting," Keane says. "I'm being treated worse than the pedophiles."
Counters Diocese spokeswoman Annette Gonzales-Taylor, "This is not extraordinary."
It all began in 2004 when Keane was hired by St. Mark athletic director Camille Patrick to resurrect a moribund football program fresh off an 0-8 season.
Enter Bobby Knight with a Bible.
Keane, 42, is a proud product of the Catholic community, attending St. Pius, Bishop Lynch and Texas Tech before starting a lucrative Collin County landscape business that allows him to volunteer endless time (coaching for free) and donate countless money (annually paying for his team's equipment). The father of six (Parker, 15, Oliver, 14, Hayden, 12, Fallon, 9, Regan, 6, and Ireland, 4), he has graying hair, a salty tongue and abrasive, effusive passion.
"Sure," Keane shrugs, "I've got my faults."
In his first year—despite admonismment from the athletic director to tone down his style and his team's scoring—Keane's fifth-grade Lions beat traditional power St. Monica in the Catholic Bowl, capping a 10-1 season in which they outscored and embarrassed opponents by an astonishing 265-18.
"After that," Keane says, "they were out to get me."
And the next season—on September 18, 2005—they got him. Sorta.
Faced with a 100-degree day on Jesuit High School's artificial turf and a roster depleted by three sick players, Keane employed a legal roster maneuver and played a sixth-grader on his fifth-grade team versus St. Rita. DPL bylaws allow for such pre-approved "swing" players to be used in emergency situations, and Keane considered having only 12 healthy bodies as extenuating circumstances.
"I'd do the same thing again," Keane says. "If I play that game with only one sub I'm putting kids at risk of a heat stroke."
Following DPL protocol, Keane notified first-year St. Mark AD Frederick Cavitt of his intentions before the game. Cavitt approved, and a call was made and an e-mail sent to DPL AD B.J. Antes at 9:43 a.m., hours before the 1 p.m. kickoff. Antes, now a fund-raiser and swim coach at Jesuit who last week refused comment, either somehow failed to get the notifications or inexplicably ignored them.
Only minutes after the St. Mark victory in which the substitute sixth-grader was limited to playing center, St. Rita coach Gary Oliver informed Keane that, according to Antes, the game was being considered a St. Mark forfeit. The following day—per Antes—Cavitt tearfully suspended his coach for using an ineligible player.
"Your action was within the letter of the law," Diocese Director of Schools Dr. Charles LeBlanc wrote in an e-mail to Keane, "but not the spirit of the law."
Also slapped with a supplemental ban, Keane would not coach again until August 2007. One player. Two years. The epitome of punishment dwarfing crime.
"Let's be clear," states Gonzales-Taylor, "Mr. Keane was originally suspended for only two games."
Not so. A DPL letter written by Antes, dated September 23, 2005—just five days after the incident—and addressed to St. Mark principal Suzanne Bacot clearly says Keane "is to be suspended from coaching activities for the remainder of this semester," which ran through December.
Keane also vehemently denies the accusations that extended his suspension from '05 into '06—calling plays from the stands via verbal, written and cell-phone communications.
"We have a video, with audio, taken by a St. Mark's parent," Gonzales-Taylor claims. Asked for a viewing, she responds, "It's not for public consumption."
Covert? Or cover-up?
"It's all bull," Keane says. "None of that is true."
Concurs Banister, "I was in the stands near Kevin for those games. That absolutely did not happen."
Deterred but not defeated, Keane served his time and was formally reinstated last summer by a DPL executive board. But after St. Mark's season-opening victory over Prince of Peace on September 9, St. Rita refused to play the Lions the following week if Keane coached. Then last week, after four more games without incident, St. Pius alerted St. Mark that it too would boycott an upcoming game. (Ironically, the committee that reinstated Keane included St. Pius AD Ginger Farrell and St. Rita principal Elena Hines.)
"It's not a league issue," says DPL AD Theresa Mosmeyer. "It's an individual school issue."
Adds Gonzales-Taylor, "Obviously, some schools didn't agree with the decision to reinstate Mr. Keane."
Even if they had a hand in it.
In effect, the two schools were holding St. Mark hostage until they got what they wanted: Keane's departure. So on October 11—sickened by the slimy politics—the man consumed with winning finally admitted defeat.
"We're ready to move on," says Gonzales-Taylor. "It's not like this is the first time in America there's been a problem involving a coach in Pony League football."
Therein lies the philosophy that would confound the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Conveniently characterizing itself as some fun-first li'l "Pony League" with only a minor mainstream malady, the DPL not long ago took itself so seriously that it empowered an eight-member board chaired by LeBlanc to suspend Keane for an admittedly minute "spirit of the law" transgression.
Peace be with you. And also with you—but only if you resign.
"I've already had two years taken away from coaching my sons," Keane says. "It's devastating. But I'm tired of seeing the kids hurt."
While Keane calmly watches his two sons (Oliver, a 210-pound lineman and Hayden the quarterback) from the stands, St. Pius takes the field for a game rescheduled from October 14 to the 17th. The question: Why? You'll have better luck convincing Pope Benedict XVI to intervene than getting a straight answer from his hell-bent parishioners.
Coach? "I have no comment," St. Pius' Lino Gonzales says. "You'll have to call the school."
Athletic director? "We communicated our reason for not playing against Mr. Keane to the St. Mark's administration," says St. Pius AD Farrell. "That's the only people that need an explanation."
Principal? "We don't have a comment on any of this," St. Pius leader Dr. Carol Newman snaps when I—honest to God—attempt to confirm the name of the school's football coach. "I'm not hiding anything, I'm just not telling you anything."
If the meek inherit the Earth, what of the paranoid?
Gonzales-Taylor maintains that the parable of the boycotts is "sometimes you have to do what's morally right." Perhaps, but what part of depriving kids the chance to play football oozes justice?
"We love Coach, and it's not right that he can't be down here with us," says St. Mark lineman Peter Burgess as he trudges off the field. "We're all sad. This whole thing has made football not as fun."
During St. Mark's 22-0 victory, the devil is on his best behavior. Never gets up from his seat and his most inciting shout is a "Lessgo, Bobo!" for Oliver. Sorry, DPL, but Kevin Keane is more dejected dad than lunatic Lucifer.
"This kills me," Keane says in the fourth quarter. "But I'd rather be a parent that watches these boys play than a coach who is the reason they aren't playing."
Making sense of the DPL's hierarchy of hypocrisy is like solving a Rubik's Cube, while blindfolded, after six goblets of communion vino.