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Visitors, part-timers or not, victims are victims

Updated: 
March 9, 2017 - 12:05am

We’re surprised Konawaena High School is sticking by its head softball coach, Shellie A. Grace.

We’re really surprised how adamant — emotional even — that support sounded from teachers, administrators and parents, who heaped praise on Grace in a Sunday article in West Hawaii Today.

A wonderful coach and mom with an amazing character is how they described her.

That is all well and good. And there’s certainly no denying how well the Wildcat softball squad plays — they’re 4-0.

Except, Grace is scheduled to be sentenced March 31.

The 40-year-old former real estate broker pleaded guilty to first-degree theft, a Class B felony, and five misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns as part of a plea agreement earlier this year.

In the meantime, the school doesn’t feel Grace is a threat to the students or the Wildcat reputation, nor is it worried about Grace handling the team’s budget, which is a responsibility all coaches have.

“Until something comes across our desk that says otherwise, we’ll address it at that time,” Kellye Krug, athletic director at Konawaena, said in defense of Grace retaining her position. “Shellie is still in good standing.”

A guilty plea to a felony isn’t “something enough” to slide across that desk? That much is clear. And as much as this story is one about second chances, of making good on past transgressions, there are some unanswered questions that leave eyebrows raised.

We wonder — and we tread these waters carefully — whether who the victims were had anything to do with the leniency?

A chunk of the property management business is from off-island renters looking to book, and off-island owners looking to fill their investment properties. One victim told the WHT editorial board they spend less than half the year here, annually.

Aside from that, part of the crime Grace perpetrated with her defunct business, Elite Property Management Services, LLC., was that she didn’t pay the general excise taxes and/or transient accommodation taxes, or TAT, for some of the properties. The TAT is more commonly called the hotel tax.

The off-island component can make the victims seem distant, faceless even. We wonder if the school would lap such praise on Grace had her victims — 13 of them based on the indictment — been raised here in Hawaii? Had the people she bilked been the same ones who passed through the Konawaena’s halls generation after generation? What if it was the band teacher’s parents who were financially harmed?

Perhaps it would still be a story of second chances. Perhaps it would still be one of forgiveness and redemption. That could well be, and it’s an important lesson anywhere.

That said, a big part of second chances is facing the music, and setting a good example, which was why we found it curious that the school denied a reporter’s request to come to the team’s practice after school hours to ask the coach for her side of the story. The school’s administration said it would be inappropriate for the reporter to do so.

Inappropriate? For whom? We’d argue the message the school is sending to students is inappropriate. Theft is OK, so long as you’re respected and well liked.

Instead, we would have classified it as a perfect opportunity for the coach facing scrutiny to show true character in front of the young women she’s tasked with leading.

Alas, the point was moot. The next day the Wildcats had a game where there was no screening a reporter. The Wildcats won and the coach was gracious in declining comment.

And so continued Grace’s journey toward redemption after taking advantage of her victims. But it’s vital to remember they are just that, victims, regardless of where they call home.

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