Dick Bernier, the principal of El Dorado High School in Placentia, has never met Janet Evans, the triple gold-medal-winning swimmer who is now his most famous student. In his first year at the school, Bernier has only seen Evans the way the rest of the world has--on television.
Yet he has found himself talking about her almost nonstop these days. Evans returned home Monday and may begin classes soon. When exactly, Bernier doesn't know.
"I got a call from Sports Illustrated at home yesterday," Bernier said. "That's the only reason I know she's coming back."
School has been in session since Sept. 6 and Evans, who is a senior, has not been to one class. Evans has joked that she will do her homework on the plane ride home. Bernier said there is a protocol for students who miss long periods of school, but added that until now, no one had used competing in the Olympics as an excuse.
"It's so unusual," Bernier said. "Obviously, we've never had this before. She took along some of her schoolbooks with the intent to do some studying. All of her teachers have been really supportive."
So have the students. Bernier said that there have been daily lunch-time screenings of Evans' races. He estimates that about half of the school's 1,450 students gather in the school gymnasium to watch the replays on a big-screen television. There are plans for a school assembly, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday, to welcome Evans back.
Evans, an A student, will have a lot of homework to do.
"We'll make a decision between us which things we will excuse her from and which things she'll have to make up," said Steve Dutcher, who teaches the honors-level English class to which Evans will return.
He said that Evans approached him last June to ask what she might miss. "She's planned for this," he said.
Dutcher said that he had received a letter from a fan, asking him to be lenient on Evans, who was asked extensively about her homework and school plans.
Through it all, Evans has stressed that she's not different since going to the Games and winning the medals. "I'm just Janet," she has said.
Now, proof positive that Evans is an average teen-ager: She's way behind in her homework.