The head of the Saratoga Springs school district says he is not out to get varsity coaches at his high school.
“We don’t go looking for them, believe me. I’m not going to look for problems,” Superintendent Michael Piccirillo said in an interview Thursday. “But when they occur, we are going to deal with them.”
And problems have occurred. In what is now a pattern in the district, Saratoga Springs school officials suspended the boys’ varsity lacrosse coach for the remainder of the season for allegedly using inappropriate language toward his players — the third sports coach in three years suspended by the district for that reason.
The suspension of lacrosse coach Jon Warner does not affect his role as a science teacher at Saratoga Springs High School. The team is being coached by assistants Joe Hayes and Mark Ventra.
“This is an unfortunate situation for all involved,” Piccirillo said in a statement. “We hold all of our employees and students to high standards of behavior, and they are held accountable when they fail to meet those standards.”
School officials made the decision Wednesday afternoon following an investigation and meeting with Warner. The alleged incident occurred at a recent practice.
Warner did not return an email seeking comment.
While each of the three suspensions at Saratoga can be looked at as isolated incidents, and it is hardly the only school to see coaches disciplined, to see three varsity coaches suspended makes the high school an outlier. Piccirillo has no explanation for why there have been so many incidents at Saratoga.
“What we expect of every adult in the school district, I don’t think, is any more stringent than anyone else,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had three incidents over the last three years. I don’t know what the reasons for that would be, but we will always have high expectations for our adult behavior and I would hope that would be common everywhere.”
Almost exactly a year ago, the district suspended its varsity baseball coach, Dean Bailey, for untoward comments to his team within earshot of parents. (He retained his high school social studies job, and the Blue Streaks rallied to make the state title game.)
“Dean Bailey, coach of the Saratoga Springs boys’ varsity baseball team, has been relieved of his coaching duties for the remainder of the season following an investigation into allegations of violations of the school district’s coaching handbook,” a district release said at the time. (He did not return to the job.) “[I]t was determined that Coach Bailey addressed his team in a manner and tone that did not meet the standard of professionalism expected from our coaching staff.”
And in February 2013, varsity boys’ basketball coach Jack Brock was suspended for four games for language he allegedly used with his team. He sat the remainder of the regular season, returned for the postseason but did not return the following year.
Robert Zayas, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, said the line for acceptable coaching behavior has certainly changed and continues to do so, for reasons ranging from social media and mores to local issues such as the statewide Dignity for All Students Act, which mandates that students have “a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying . . . .”
“You want coaches who are passionate and enthusiastic. You want coaches who are great educators,” Zayas said. “But ultimately you want coaches who are great role models.”
Piccirillo did not speak ill of the suspended coaches, including Warner.
“Coaching is difficult. There are a lot of demands on coaches. There is a lot of pressure,” he said. “Those things combined can lead to a person behaving, maybe, out of character. People under pressure sometimes make mistakes.”
And after three incidents at the high school in three years, would he be shocked by another one?
“I guess I would be more disappointed than shocked,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I would necessarily be surprised. But I would be disappointed.”