Scott Ericson: A little transparency can go a long way
Rob Trifone is back coaching the Darien football team this week.
That is unless another video surfaces and he is suspended for a third time.
In case you missed it, Trifone was suspended from coaching the Blue Wave for two weeks for hitting a player on the helmet with his open hand in an Oct. 1 game.
The day that suspension was to end, the Darien School District handed Trifone an additional two-game suspension based on security camera footage that was not previously seen according to a press release from Supt. Daniel Brenner.
The statement from Brenner did not specify what was on the video and the school has not released the video.
Brenner did not give a reason for doubling the suspension, leaving everyone wondering and speculating as to why the two more weeks.
Unfortunately, none of them would comment.
Calls to Darien Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia went unreturned. Not an explanation of the additional suspension or at the very least a “no comment.”
The man in charge of the one of the state’s most prominent athletic departments just did not call the reporters back.
The silence was deafening.
If the new video revealed that Trifone did something more egregious, doesn’t the Darien community have a right to know what that is? Darien denied Hearst Connecticut Media’s Freedom of Information request to view the video.
Or, if the school board acted arbitrarily in handing down two more weeks doesn’t the community deserve to know that?
Instead we are all left wondering as Darien hopes it goes away in the next news cycle and all is forgotten when Trifone returns and starts winning again.
Trifone, his players and the town of Darien deserve better than the obfuscation they got.
Jump forward two and a half weeks and the problem of transparency moved to Westhill High School.
Again, a prominent and well respected coach, this time Westhill swimming coach Rick Lewis, was left in the lurch by his athletic director and administration.
Lewis and assistant coach Kyle Cutter-Dabrini were not suspended, but rather put on leave pending an investigation into whether they made students sick by requiring them to use a pool with unbalanced chemicals.
Lewis and Cutter-Dabrini were cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before their names were dragged through the mud and questions were raised about their integrity.
In a repeat of what happened at Darien, Westhill athletic director Larry Savo did not return calls for comment, leaving his hall of fame coach twisting in the wind.
The swim team is a co-op team with Stamford High and its athletic director, Jim Moriarty, did speak to reporters seeking comment. He was not directly involved in any of this and was, in fact, out of school during the days of the initial reports.
Still, he took the time to answer his phone and though he could not provide many details, at least dealt with the situation rather than avoiding it.
The Stamford school board was forthcoming both after the initial complaint and after Lewis was reinstated.
“The district concluded its investigation regarding the incident and since the safety of the students is a top priority, and since we’d like to avoid a situation like this in the future, we’re taking corrective measures regarding maintenance and monitoring of the pool facility, supervising student athletes and internal communication with regard to pool conditions,” school district spokeswoman Sharon Beadle said.
It is still unclear why a janitor without proper certification to do so was charged with chlorinating the pool and why there were claims of swimmers being sick after practice in the untreated pool that seem to be unfounded.
The school has not publicly addressed either issue.
Those are two examples of getting it, at least mostly, wrong and doing a disservice to coaches, players, parents and the community in the process.
Here is an example of a school district and an athletic program getting it right.
On Oct. 15 a Trumbull mother complained that a Greenwich freshmen football team used the word “Hitler” as a play call in its game against Trumbull.
This was revealed to be true, confirmed by the coach that day. The team used “Hitler” for a play right and “Stalin” for a play to the left.
It was a bad look for the football program and nothing school officials ever want to deal with.
Did Greenwich officials hide and refuse to return phone calls?
Not even close.
Greenwich High School Headmaster Chris Winters apologized publicly in a letter on the school’s website “for this admittedly offensive practice,” and the school apologized to Jewish groups in Greenwich and to the Anti-Defamation League.
Greenwich Supt. of Schools Dr. Salvatore J. Corda also commented, saying in a statement. “It was a bad decision because of its insensitivity. But it is also important to understand that these were not slurs that were directed at anyone. It was an inappropriate use of names that have a horrific history attached to them and we should have been mindful of that. Our coaches should know better and it should never have happened.”
Corda said the district took “appropriate action” to hold the coach accountable.
Fair enough. We do not need to know what that action is, just that it is happening.
Head varsity football coach John Marinelli apologized and promised to educate his players further.
Greenwich athletic director Gus Lindine, while not directly commenting on the incident, did return calls from reporters, referring them to the proper place for comments on the matter.
Lindine, Corda, Winters, Marinelli all personally apologized to the Trumbull parent who filed the initial complaint.
All of them also got out ahead of what could have been a crippling ordeal. None of them wanted to speak to the press, but they did out of an obligation to the community they serve.
It was an unfortunate incident but the aftermath was handled with class and respect for all involved.
That is really all we can ask for in matters such as these. Handle the situation appropriately and keep the public informed.
Do public schools have the right to keep certain details in house when it comes to matters of staff and students?
Of course they do.
Do they also have a responsibility to return calls giving the public some idea of what is going on when a coach is suspended?
Of course they do.
A little transparency can go a long way.