By CHRIS EBERHART and MIKE SMITH
Parents and administrators clashed at a crowded Aug. 25 Board of Education meeting in the Tuckahoe High School Library amid claims the school has mishandled preparation for the upcoming football season.
Basic equipment like footballs and mouth guards weren’t ordered until the middle of this week, longtime coaches weren’t reappointed, narrowly reappointed or reappointed late, and volunteer coaches were done away with at the start of the season.
Tuckahoe Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi said by mid-July the school district wasn’t sure if there would be enough players to field a team, so the district delayed in purchasing equipment and hiring a third coach.
But Tuckahoe football head coach John D’Arco, Sr., 62, said he told athletic director Rod Mergardt he had a team by the week of July 22 and, a week or two before that, he told Mergardt what equipment he would need for the
“All summer, I kept in touch with [Mergardt]. Every week, I gave him the numbers for how many men came out. The week of July 22, our attendance was up to 17 or 18 players. I had commitments from four or five other players, and I said we’re going to have a football team,” D’Arco said. “I made that known to him.”
Under Section I rules, football teams must have a total of at least 16 eligible players in order to compete.
Financially, the school district allocated $29,000 in the 2014-2015 budget to athletic equipment and athletic materials and supplies, approximately $4,000 to $5,000 of which goes toward football.
The $29,000 is approximately a $5,500 increase from last year’s budget.
Despite the allocated money, Mergardt never placed an order for the equipment, but refused to tell anyone why.
D’Arco said he borrowed mouth guards and footballs from other schools and used leftover medical supplies from last year coupled with whatever medical materials he had in his house to put together a makeshift medical kit.
Mergardt and Nuzzi said after the Aug. 25 meeting the equipment had already been ordered, but four purchase orders, obtained by the Review, totaling $3,205.28 for equipment such as footballs, mouth guards, helmets, girdles and medical supplies were dated Aug. 27.
Tension between the supporters of the football program and the school administration has built since early June, when John D’Arco, Jr., 33, the head coach’s son and the team’s defensive coordinator, was not reappointed to the position he has held since 2002.
Then came the July 1 Board of Education meeting at which a 3 to 2 vote reappointed D’Arco, Sr. to the position he has held since 1999.
During his time at the helm of Tuckahoe’s football program, D’Arco, Sr. has led the Tigers to eight Section I titles and two state championships—the last of which came in 2010.
School board president Julio Urbina and new school board member Stephen Pagnotta were the votes against retaining D’Arco, Sr. Urbina declined to comment when asked why he voted no, and Pagnotta was on vacation and could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Among the parents expressing support for D’Arco, Sr. and his son was John Reichelt, the husband of board member Cathy Reichelt and father of a player on the football team.
“How is it that a coach that has taken us to the states numerous times, has taken children who didn’t know how to throw a football and made them MVPs, and we’re having second thoughts about whether we’re going to bring him and his son back to coach our kids,” Reichelt said. “It goes without saying that [D’Arco, Sr.] should be the coach.”
Offensive coordinator Pat Gallo was also appointed to his position during the July 1 meeting, leaving him as the only assistant on Tuckahoe’s staff.
At the Aug. 25 school board meeting, assistant coach Bill Magner was also re-appointed to his post, but there are those concerned this late addition, which came after one full week of double sessions, may have put the Tigers behind the eight ball in terms of their preparation for the upcoming season.
For the first week of the preseason, Tuckahoe was the only football program in Section I without at least two assistant coaches.
“We’ve done this together for 15 years, Pat Gallo and I,” D’Arco said. “So, luckily, we were able to get away with it, we scripted practices to get the most out of our offense, defense and special teams. But there was definitely a lot of pressure on us; there was a strain because we didn’t have a third coach.”
Nuzzi said the delay in reappointing Magner, which has to be approved by a majority vote of the school board, was because the school district “didn’t have the numbers.”
“But we do now,” she said.
Volunteer coaches were done away with this year because of “complaints about the volunteer coaches,” according to school board member Michael Collins, although there’s no official policy in place barring volunteers from coaching, according to board members.
“The board accepted a recommendation [to not have volunteer coaches] from the athletic director, and we expect the coaches to abide by it,” Collins said.
When asked why volunteer coaches were no longer utilized, Nuzzi said, “we decided it was in the best interest of the district not to have volunteers.”
Board member Michelle Liscio proposed adding a discussion about the volunteer coaches to next week’s agenda to vote on formalizing a policy.
Anthony Pinto, a father of one of the football players, called the Tuckahoe school district a “theater of the absurd.”
“I find it despicable that you tried to dummy down this program and undermine it this year,” Pinto said to the superintendent and the Board of Education. “It’s juvenile to try to take down this program and hurt these kids.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Liscio voiced her dismay at the administration’s handling of the football program.
“This is not how the athletic program should be run,” Liscio said. “I’m very disappointed, and I’ve expressed that.”
After the meeting, Urbina told the Review, “The community needs to understand, [the school board] is not involved in this kind of stuff. [Ordering equipment] is operational and the school runs it, in this case the athletic director. We set policy.”
Nuzzi said after the meeting she was glad to see there were so many people passionate about athletics and she appreciates the participation, though she would not answer why D’Arco, Jr., was not reappointed.
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