So I’m sitting in the bleachers in City Honors’ fantastically shiny gym, watching the most successful program in Buffalo Public Schools athletics cruise to another win. Coach Deborah Matos is doing her thing from her familiar spot in the back corner of the court, squatting most of the time. She’s directing players, shouting occasionally, as she delivers instructions, encouragement and criticism. It’s called coaching.
Matos wasn’t able to do that for about two weeks. The 18-year head coach was placed on administrative leave from her teaching and coaching positions on Sept. 23, and she was reinstated last Friday afternoon.
And I’m thinking, why again was she gone?
City Honors volleyball is unquestionably the best athletic program in the city system. Honors has won several sectional titles and a state championship under Matos while it has dominated the city league and annually been a fixture in the Western New York small schools top 10.
With all the challenges facing city students and teachers, the City Honors volleyball program is a beacon of how greatness can be achieved.
So, naturally, the Buffalo Public Schools had to somehow make a mess of things.
Over the last two weeks, The News received many letters in support of Matos (four were printed). There are about 170 comments on the original BuffaloNews.com story that reported her being placed on leave, the overwhelming majority in support of the coach.
Current and former athletes coached by Matos – and their parents – made their voices heard about how much the coach has meant to their athletic careers, how much she meant to their lives. There were several who did so at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, at about the same time Matos was making her return to coaching in her home gym after her time away.
During that same two-week stretch, this year’s team was left to stress over whether it would get its coach back.
It never should have happened. Here’s how it did:
On Sept. 21, Matos was addressing her team after a loss at the Eden Tournament. The address was a stern one. It’s called coaching.
According to several sources, Jim Gribbins, a father of one of the players, came from a volleyball court-length away to aggressively confront coach Matos, taking issue with how she was addressing her team.
That was on a Saturday. The following Monday, a letter from complaining parents was sent to the administration and Matos was placed on leave. Two parents who spoke to The News – Gribbins and Meg Gifford – complained about harsh treatment of the players.
There are 16 players on the City Honors varsity. Sources told The News that 14 signed a letter in support of Matos.
Two out of 16. That apparently is the threshold to remove a veteran, accomplished coach from her position for two weeks, prompting an unsettling situation for the school, alumni, other parents and – oh, by the way – the players, while causing a public relations disaster for a district that could offer an elective in that category.
Part of Gribbins’ complaint to The News was that the players had to change their jerseys in the gym. It’s an asinine, baseless point that isn’t about Matos but the sport itself. Almost anyone who has been to a girls volleyball match has seen that happen.
Gifford complained to The News that sometimes players were brought to tears by Matos.
Tears? More than a few have been shed in athletics, no matter the era, sport or gender. It’s called coaching. Several of Matos’ former players said that they were sometimes pushed to that point and are better for it.
Tears? There were more than a few shed as a result of coach Matos’ suspension, including in Superintendent Pamela C. Brown’s office after she agreed to see the members of this year’s Centaurs team. Team captains I spoke with Wednesday said the entire team lobbied for Matos to be returned to her post.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of emotions,” said senior captain Sade Hellams. “Before then, we didn’t have any answers. ... Now we had a voice, a part in bringing our coach back, which I think is the most important part: Listening to girls and players rather than parents who are not always with the coach.”
“She’s just a coach who wants to win,” said senior captatin Tyler Carpenter.
“She’s our coach, not our mother,” said senior captain Ashley O’Hanrahan. “She doesn’t have to go, ‘Oh, great game!’ If she did that, none of us would play as well as we do.”
Matos spoke with The News after Honors swept East on Wednesday. She declined to go into details, saying only: “I’m absolutely elated to be back. It’s what’s best for the kids, and that’s what this whole thing should be about.”
The parents’ letter shouldn’t have been sent. But, more importantly, the administrators should have thanked the parents for their feedback, said they would look into it, and placing Matos on leave would have never been part of the conversation.
Someone with the Buffalo Public Schools, or City Honors, should have supported their coach. They should have made the best decision for the team, the school, the district, and – oh, by the way – the players.
It’s called administrating.