Despite the approval of Superintendent June Chang and Carol Roseto, the Rockville Centre School District’s director of physical education, health and athletics, the Board of Education voted against the rehiring of Long Island high school girls’ soccer Coach of the Year Jennifer Abgarian, as well as varsity assistant coach Chris Aloisi, in separate 3-2 votes at its July 21 meeting.
It was believed to be the first time in district history that a coach was not hired after receiving approval from the superintendent and athletic director, and the decisions were met with widespread opposition, including claims that at least one school board member voted “no” because of a personal issue related to the soccer program dating back several years.
Coaching positions are one-year terms, and must be applied for each year. When the superintendent and athletic director approve an applicant, the final step is a school board vote. Board President John O’Shea, Vice President Christine Ferazani and Trustee Erica Messier voted against rehiring Abgarian and Aloisi, while Secretary Kelly Barry and Trustee Tara Hackett voted in favor.
Reached by phone on Monday, O’Shea said he could not comment on the vote because board members were advised by an attorney not to speak publicly about personnel matters. He did acknowledge that he approved the rehiring of Abgarian and Aloisi in board votes in previous years, but declined to speak further about why he changed his vote this year.
Chang, Roseto and Ferazani had not returned requests for comment at press time, while Hackett declined to comment, saying that the board’s policy is that the president speaks on its behalf.
Abgarian, who also declined comment, guided South Side to the Nassau County Class A championship this spring after the season was postponed from last fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was her third season as the varsity head coach, and the first county title for the Cyclones since 2014. She was honored by the school board in June. Abgarian and Aloisi, who served as an unpaid volunteer last season, are both tenured teachers in the district.
A group of 12 parents of South Side soccer players immediately came to the defense of the coaches in a letter addressed to Chang. The opening paragraph of the letter, obtained by the Herald, mentions Ferazani by name and alleges “her clear partiality and obvious conflict of interest.”
Emma Hospodka, a team captain who will be a senior, said she was disheartened by the board’s decision, and that the two coaches helped team members bond during a difficult time en route to being able to “rebuild the Cyclones’ legacy” by capturing the title. “It is my understanding that the Board of Education is supposed to make decisions based on the best interest of the students,” she wrote in an email. “I do not see how removing two highly respected coaches can in any way benefit the student athletes, especially a month away from the start of the season. It is much rather the opposite and has caused a lot of stress and uncertainty among the girls.”
Jim LiCalzi said that his daughter, Cristina, a captain of the team who will also be a senior, respected and played hard for the coaches, and was “troubled” by the board’s decision. “I have a lot of questions that are unanswered,” LiCalzi said. “The main question I have is, why? I’m concerned about the lack of transparency, and I’m willing to be open to listen if there are any reasons they’re not being rehired.”
LiCalzi said he was confused about how the board could honor the coaches and team for winning the county title and then, a month later, choose not to rehire them. He added that his daughter and her teammates were concerned about being left in coaching limbo just a month before the season starts.
Cammie Harloff, whose daughter, Morgan, is a rising sophomore on the team, said she was a member of an Athletics Advisory Committee that worked on developing a new policy regarding coaching, tutoring and any conflicts of interest. She noted that the Board of Education approved the policy, and that all coaches applying for the upcoming school year adhered to it before being approved by Chang and Roseto.
“I am concerned, as soccer seems to be the only team targeted, and the board provided no reason for its decision,” Harloff said. “Both coaches in question fully participated in the spring seasons, brought the girls to a victorious result and gave them an experience they’ll never forget.”
Karen Parker, vice president of the South Side High School Booster Club, said she was “shocked and disappointed” by the decision, and that the community is entitled to know why it was made. “I think the community deserves answers to questions about the motivation of these three board members and justification of their vote, “Parker said. “If the board knows information about these coaches that the community doesn’t, then they should say so, even if the specifics can’t be discussed.”
Parents and athletes planned to attend a rally on Shepherd Street on Wednesday, after the Herald went to press, to show support for the coaches and protest the board’s decision. Go to liherald.com for coverage of the event.