"No one ever says enough's enough," Shannon says. "No one ever takes a stand." Finally he dropped a dime and called the state oversight committee.
Richard Mark, head of the committee, was thrilled to find Shannon on the line. For months, as the committee had tried to clean up the district's finances, Mark had been getting little but obstruction from the school board. Then Shannon, the figure with the highest profile in the city, broke that silence. Word spread of his allegations, and suddenly Mark's committee received dozens of anonymous tips about possible corruption in the district—tips serious enough for Mark to turn them over to the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in East St. Louis.
"It seems like people were just waiting for someone to stand up," Mark says.
But Shannon paid a price for taking a stand. Not only did the school board jump at the chance to close out his 20-year coaching career, but other pressures were also brought to bear on Shannon and his supporters. May approached Clarence Goldthree, then East Side's volleyball coach and a friend of Shannon's, and accused him of leaking financial information to Shannon. Social studies teacher Irl Solomon, who announces the Flyers' football games, was told by Hood not to refer to the school stadium over the P.A. system as "the house that Bob Shannon built," which was sparking cheers from pro-Shannon crowds. And basketball coach Dwight Howard was told to start looking for a new assistant to replace Ray Coleman, who was making and distributing I SUPPORT BOB SHANNON T-shirts.
And if there was any question about who, in the end, would pay the highest price for the school board's action, consider this: When Shannon went by the practice field recently and volunteered to help his old quarterback Lawaun Powell with his passing mechanics, Hood instructed the Flyers' new head coach, Edmund Jones, to kick Shannon off the field. "You tell me," Shannon says. "Who does that hurt?"
On a Saturday afternoon in late September, the Flyers take the field in a home game against Granite City. They go into the contest 1-3. Many in the crowd are wearing the I SUPPORT BOB SHANNON T-shirts. And although none of the fans likes to think that the East St. Louis school system is failing its children, few doubt that it is. "I've never known Bob Shannon to lie about anything," says a Flyer's stepfather who played for Shannon 15 years ago. "If he says it's happening, then it's happening."
"We've been hearing for years that money's been missing," says one of the East Side cheerleaders as her squadmates nod adamantly by her side. "It's the same-ol' same-ol'. People in high authority around here have their pick, and what do we get? Nothing."
"The way I look at it," says Cox from Miami, "when Bob Shannon tells you something, his word is his bond. The city does not know how much it will miss his presence. It's a great loss. You don't just go out and replace a guy like that."
Shannon knows he has opened a Pandora's box of old resentments, but he thinks that's the only way to accomplish change, to get rid of the old guard and, he hopes, bring in the new. And if a majority of school board members are replaced in the Nov. 7 election, Shannon predicts he will be asked back to East Side.
"Two other districts have called me in the last week [with coaching offers]," he says after he and his wife have celebrated the Flyers' 36-22 win over Granite City with a quiet dinner at home. "But I'd go back to East Side if they changed the way they do business."