Williamsville South High School basketball coach Al Monaco was removed from his coaching job a few days after the Amherst Police Department shared with the school district its investigation of student harassment complaints filed against him, police said Monday.
Police looked into the complaints in June and closed the case last week without filing charges. But by Friday, Monaco’s 24-year tenure as a South High School coach was over.
“After our investigation was complete, we briefed them on the details on the information we had gathered,” said Police Chief John Askey.
Many coaches and parents continue to express disbelief and outrage over the removal of a respected, accomplished and long-tenured coach who led South High to sectional championships in 2010 and 2011, and split the ECIC II league title last year with Williamsville East.
Monaco’s supporters are expected to gather at tonight’s Williamsville School Board meeting as a show of support for the coach. The 7 p.m. meeting is a special one to appoint a new board member. Because it is a special meeting, there is no listed opportunity for the public to speak. The next regular meeting of the board is Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.
Williamsville Central School District Superintendent Scott Martzloff said he couldn’t comment on the decision to remove Monaco as coach of basketball and golf.
“It’s a personnel matter and we have to treat it as such, and that’s all I can say,” he said regarding his decision. “It’s something we take very seriously, and it’s not something that we can confirm closer than that.”
He did take issue with suggestions that player favoritism had anything to do with the district’s decision, as was suggested in an article in Sunday’s Buffalo News.
“If I were to fire coaches based on parent complaints of playing time, we would be firing every coach in the district,” Martzloff said.
Those familiar with Monaco’s circumstances said the coach has been accused of poorly managing the basketball program and making demeaning comments toward players. Monaco’s defenders also said there’s been tension on the team between students getting more playing time than others, and the parents of players who saw little court action were behind the harassment complaint to police in June.
Askey said several parents of students accused Monaco of verbally harassing their children during the course of his coaching duties. When police investigated, only two of the allegations by parents of 15-year-old players appeared to merit further investigation, he said.
“We investigated the complaints and in the end, the parents did not want to prosecute for any of those comments or behaviors,” he said. “It was minor harassment in nature to begin with, and they chose not to prosecute.”
Investigators spoke with parents, students and Monaco and heard differing versions of what was said and how it was said, Askey said. Even if every allegation been substantiated, he added, the matter would have amounted to a harassment violation at most, not a misdemeanor.
The Williamsville school district, however, can take disciplinary action against both students and staff for many infractions that may violate school policies and conduct standards but do not amount to legally criminal behavior.
Carolyn Nugent Gorczynski, the lawyer representing Monaco, said that based on what she’s been told, prior to the coach being accused of bullying behavior, there was student-to-student bullying on the team that was addressed by Monaco. The students who were doing the bullying are at the heart of the complaint against the coach, she said.
“There’s allegations of bullying going both ways on this,” she said.
She also said Monaco is considering legal action against the district. “I’m skeptical regarding the district’s reasoning and basis for doing this,” she said. “I think what the district has done is set a very dangerous precedent for the future for coaches in general.”
“We’re supporting Al, not only because of the great job that we all know he has done, but we realize we could be the next one to go if other superintendents fall in line with a decision like this,” said 20-year Depew coach Larry Jones, who was named co-chairman of Section VI boys basketball with Monaco this year. “I think [Martzloff] wanted to escape negative publicity to appease parents that thought they were being wronged in some way. Now he has to deal with a different group of people who believe Al has been wronged.”
David J. Archer, the executive director of the Basketball Coaches Association of New York, sent a letter to the School Board Monday in support of Monaco, who is the BCANY’s assistant executive director.
“I cannot recall another instance in our state, where parents have tried to oust a coach, where that coach has been treated as unjustly as Al Monaco has been,” said Archer, who has been involved in high school basketball for 45 years and is also president of the National High School Basketball Coaches Association.
Jerry Sheldon, chairman of the Amherst Youth Foundation who established the annual Williamsville Holiday Basketball Tournament with Monaco eight years ago, said assertions that Monaco harassed or bullied students sounds “totally out of character.” He faulted the district for what he considered a rush to judgment.“I think this is totally ill-advised,” he said, “and appears to me to be a rash decision that was made without all of the facts being known.”
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