Former Scarsdale High School coaches have lodged a list of complaints against the district centering on their dismissal without prior warning.
Some coaches and others claim coaches who get pushed out are victims of a small, but vocal, group of parents who complain about coaching decisions to the school superintendent.
“My biggest concern is there are a bunch of loud-mouth parents going over the athletic director’s head and to the superintendent, who doesn’t want to hear it. It’s easier to cut people loose,” said former Maroon and White booster president Kathy Coleman.
Seven varsity head coaches have either been dismissed or resigned in the past year and a half, as well as some long-time assistants.
The varsity coaches include:
- Head baseball coach David “Doc” Scholl (dismissed)
- Head ice hockey coach Jim Mancuso (dismissed)
- Head softball coach Dave Scagnelli (dismissed)
- Head boys lacrosse coach Brendan Curran (resigned)
- Head boys basketball coach Bill Murphy (dismissed)
- Head girls lacrosse coach Genette Zonghetti (dismissed)
- Head field hockey coach Sharon Rosenthal (resigned)
For the coaches part, they say they were given no prior negative feedback before being let go and, in all but one instance, given vague reasons for their dismissals. They’re calling for the district to provide job assessments so coaches can improve their performance and save their positions if problems are perceived.
And the district appears ready to make changes.
Athletic director Ray Pappalardi has proposed several steps to remedy the problem, including:
- starting a coach mentoring program
- establishing an athletic advisory council
- improving communication between coaches and parents
Coleman, who was on a committee that interviewed athletic director job candidates and recommended Pappalardi’s hiring for the 2015-16 school year, characterized those complaining as “helicopter parents.”
“These coaches are up against it with this community,” she added.
The former 25-year ice hockey coach Mancuso, who was part of a one-day purge of four varsity coaches in August 2016, also linked the dismissals and forced resignations to a “small, minority” of parents upset for “whatever reason — playing time, didn’t become captain, wasn’t a big enough trophy, not selected for after-season award.”
Despite criticism, the district is on solid ground legally. In New York, public school coaches are “at-will” employees and can be dismissed at any time without reason, according to the state Education Department.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Hagerman, who has been in his post four years, did not return calls last week nor respond to an email with questions about the district’s actions.
But Pappalardi, who will be considered for tenure this year, indicated he was not forced into dismissing anyone.
He allowed that some coach dismissals weren’t related to anything “specific” and, if contacted, he would recommend those coaches for other jobs.
“There were cases where it was just in Scarsdale’s best interests to go in another direction. Those people would have gotten positive evaluations for other jobs,” he said.
Still, in a letter he wrote to parents to address concerns, he both dismissed the idea parental complaints about things like playing time had led to any job losses and indicated all job losses were based on infractions.
“It is important,” he wrote, “to understand that parent complaints about playing time, team selection, or any player comparison are not entertained regarding the adjustment of line-ups, player positions or team composition; these determinations are made at the coaches’ discretion.”
He added that, “It is also important to understand that disciplinary actions toward coaches happen based upon verifiable infractions from a preponderance of evidence from multiple sources. One parent or one student do not have the power to have a coach removed; only a coach’s behaviors can be the direct cause of this result.”
Pappalardi continued by saying dismissal of a coach “only happens under circumstances of repeated, unprofessional, irremediable and/or egregious behaviors, or a combination thereof.”
Regarding criticism he hadn’t previously told coaches of problems, Pappalardi said, “I share as much as I can with coaches.”
The latest cuts
The latest casualties of the district’s coach cuts are Genette Zonghetti, 34, and her sister Gail, 32, who served as an assistant on Genette’s girls lacrosse staff.
Genette Zonghetti said she was three weeks into preseason workouts with her players when, on Feb. 2, Pappalardi said she and her sister were out.
This was the same day that Murphy was let go as boys basketball coach with three regular-season games left in his schedule.
Genette Zonghetti said Pappalardi kept his words “very short and simple,” saying, “There’s stuff and I’m not bringing you back.”
Zonghetti, who’d coached at Scarsdale for a decade, four of her eight years in lacrosse as head coach, said Pappalardi would not elaborate on the “stuff.”
“It was a complete blindside,” she said.
Because Scarsdale’s policy is to not allow a dismissed coach to coach another sport, the move also cost the Zonghettis their field hockey jobs. Genette was assistant varsity coach and Gail head junior varsity field hockey coach. Rosenthal, the 18-year head varsity field hockey coach, subsequently resigned, saying, “It’s hard to coach without my current coaching staff.”
Coleman said the Zonghettis had seven job offers within 24 hours of being cut by Scarsdale. They accepted lacrosse jobs at Bronxville.
But Genette Zonghetti still wants changes at Scarsdale.
“A lot of parents are very upset but, overall, this is not about me,” she said. “Everyone needs to work toward protocol, so coaches get feedback and can work on issues, so the blindside stops.”
New steps to help coaches
One of Pappalardi’s first moves will be to establish a mentoring program for new coaches.
It will be so “new coaches understand the community and expectations. It can be a guide and resource so they don’t succumb to any of the pitfalls of coaching.”
Pappalardi said in the future there will be “clear expectations for behavior and expectations to interact with the community.”
Coaches will be given feedback about how to “instruct sports and ways to take care of our kids,” he said.
As part of this, he plans to create an advisory council that will include community members, most likely those whose children are not in the school system.
“They’ll be able to guide us and give us feedback, so coaches can be confident in the expectations not only from the school district but also from the community,” Pappalardi said.
Of the departures and proposed changes, he added, “I see this as an opportunity for the community and district to become tighter to create programs we can really be proud of. I’m hoping over time will play itself out.”
He added he’s currently interviewing candidates for the two lacrosse jobs.
Feedback is something the ousted coaches had sought.
Mancuso, the ice hockey coach, said Pappalardi told him he was being let go for not communicating well with parents.
He said Pappalardi had never previously mentioned that as a problem. He argued he did communicate with parents, even notifying them in spring of Christmas week games so they could plan family activities accordingly.
“There’s no discussion about what we’re doing wrong: How do I make myself a better coach?” he said, noting he had received feedback from former ADs Rod Bouchier and Mike Menna, who, he said, were “much more visible at games and practices” than Pappalardi.
“Isn’t it their (administrators) job to work out problems and to make me better or is it just to terminate?” the 30-year Scarsdale resident asked. “A lot of things are going on that are just not right. You fire the baseball coach (David “Doc” Scholl) because he didn’t start (all the) seniors (on Senior Day) but there’s no written policy about what to do.”
The basketball coach exit
While the district has not made public any of its complaints about its former coaches, Pappalardi emailed parents and players about basketball coach Murphy’s departure, which he characterized as a resignation. Murphy later called it a “firing.”
In Pappalardi’s email, he said Murphy had been instructed not to have contact with students or parents and asked that he be told if Murphy did.
He defended Murphy’s ouster, citing a “variety of information.”
All of it seems to pertain to team trips to Florida this winter and last winter.
Murphy confirmed he had a beer at a parent’s Florida home this season but said players were not there at the time.
He said the district also said the previous season he drank a beer at some point before driving a van with players in it. He claims neither he nor parents he has contacted recall him doing that.
He did not dispute allowing a coach to drive one of two player vans without that person having district permission to do.
Murphy pointed to trouble starting with the parent who gave him the beer at the house, then later reported him for drinking it after Murphy suspended his son for two games for cursing at the coaches. Murphy made contact with the parent in question in what he said was an attempt to resolve the problem. He was told that was inappropriate and that it was part of the reason for his dismissal.
“We’re guilty before being able to prove we’re innocent. Isn’t this school system supposed to be based on democracy? It’s not. It’s based on what the parents say,” Murphy said. “The parents are in charge in Scarsdale. How could a parent, who isn’t a certified educator, how is this person in charge of getting me fired three weeks before the season is done? I’m still in shock about it.
“… Where’s the due process? Where’s the transparency? How come I’m the one who looks like I did something wrong?”
Murphy, who coached Scarsdale for three seasons and led his team to a near-upset of eventual state champ Mount Vernon in last year’s Section 1 Class AA championship, has not yet signed on to coach another high school team next year.
But Scagnelli, the former softball coach who was part of the August 2016 dismissals, is among those who have found new homes. He took over the Somers program last year.
Scagnelli, who teaches in the Scarsdale district, largely declined to talk about the district’s athletic department but said, “It’s just an unfortunate situation. Scarsdale is what it is.”