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Scarsdale loses 4th varsity coach this month

Wright resigns after 2 years as ice hockey coach


Ice hockey coach Kevin Wright resigned the day after the season ended. He missed both playoff games due to a pair of ejections during the season.


SCARSDALE SPORTS — Coach Kevin Wright made up his mind recently.

Ten Scarsdale ice hockey families said they had their minds made up a year ago.

Athletic director Ray Pappalardi, who hadn’t yet made a decision on next year’s annual appointment, wouldn’t have to bother.

On Tuesday morning, one day after the season ended, second-year Scarsdale ice hockey coach Wright resigned in an email to Pappalardi.

And so the drama of the Scarsdale High School coaching carousel continued its dizzying journey around for the eighth time in less than two years.

In the summer of 2016, Pappalardi opted not to renew the yearly appointments of softball’s Dave Scagnelli, baseball’s Doc Scholl and ice hockey’s Jim Mancuso, while boys lacrosse’s Brendan Curran resigned before he could be terminated.

Earlier this month, boys basketball coach Billy Murphy was asked to resign with three regular season games left and was later fired, girls lacrosse coach Genette Zonghetti was let go a month before preseason and four days after that, field hockey coach Sharon Rosenthal resigned after losing Zonghetti, who was also her field hockey assistant.

Two seasons ago, Wright replaced Mancuso, who, in his 25 years with the hockey program, established one of the most successful teams in school history, with six Section 1 finals appearances and two championships.

Now, a group of parents say they’ve breathed a sigh of relief with Wright’s resignation, having banded together to ask Pappalardi for his removal following last season.

Wright was not hired until days before the preseason two Novembers ago, so right off the bat his tenure was off to a slippery start through no fault of his own. Despite Mancuso having planned out the entire season in advance of his dismissal, ice time for practice was an issue, as was the team’s crumbling schedule that had to be rebuilt. Also lost were traditions like the annual Thanksgiving weekend jamboree scrimmage, the home tournament and an annual upstate trip.

Those trends continued this past season.

Tuesday afternoon, hours after The Inquirer broke the news of Wright’s resignation on Twitter, Wright met with nine players at the high school track to tell them what they already knew. The rest of the 22 players on the team were either not available — some bolted town for vacation after Monday’s loss — or opted not to go to the short, impromptu meeting.

Wright, who missed both of the team’s postseason games after receiving his second ejection of the season following the team’s final regular season game a week earlier and had to sit out two games this time, told the kids he was proud of them, would miss them and they had a bright future.

After informing the team he’ll be there for the Maroon & White dinner and of his desire to set up a final team bonding event, Wright said, “By the way guys, this is going to be a very good team next year … I hope you guys keep working hard.”

Wright then awkwardly bro-hugged each of the players who, unfazed but confused, shifted over to the turf field for some pickup football.

“It’s pretty absurd,” sophomore Luke Schur said. “No real explanation why. I’m sure people have thoughts why, but I guess we’ll never know officially.”

Schur has two more years on the team and said he hopes to see Scarsdale go in a more youthful direction. He wants “someone that can talk to the kids, connect with the kids … Getting the point across was a problem this year.”

This winter, Wright had banned music on the bus and in the locker room. No talking on the bench or in the locker room either.

Those rules were not followed in the three games first-year assistant Mike Chiapparelli Jr. coached in Wright’s absence.

After a 5-2 loss to Suffern on Monday night, Chiapparelli expressed his desire to remain with the program.

Following the player meeting, Wright cited the time commitment as the biggest factor in his decision to resign. He said his youngest of three kids is 8 and playing a lot of hockey that Wright missed out on. He also owns a rink, so getting to buses and practices on time was an issue and often led to ice time going to waste and less preparation for the Raiders.

The offseason commitment also had a negative impact on Wright. That was something he didn’t have his first year after being hired well after the team would have had their fall season.

“What happened this year is I did a lot of stuff for Scarsdale Youth Hockey to try to develop the program,” Wright said. “It was six days a week, and I honestly didn’t really know how much — this was my first full season. Once I saw what was involved with it I had to go family first.”

Pappalardi saw a text from The Inquirer about Wright’s resignation prior to seeing Wright’s email. He said early Tuesday afternoon he hadn’t spoken with Wright.

“I had not gone through an end-of-season meeting with him, I had not completed the formal evaluation,” Pappalardi said. “I can’t tell you I’m completely surprised. I think it’s been a challenging season in general, but I was not there yet.”

Wright and Pappalardi had kind words to say about each other.

“Ray is a very good guy,” Wright said. “He’s got a very good heart and he’s in a really tough market. There’s a lot a people who don’t know what goes on in a day of that guy’s life.”

Pappalardi said Wright was “at the top of his game when it comes to tactics and hockey knowledge and the rules of hockey. That’s been his greatest strength; his ability to analyze game play and relate that to kids has been immense. Those were his greatest strengths and I was hoping to build on those.”

A parent group tried to get Pappalardi to go in another direction following last winter, but Pappalardi said he “thought [Wright] had enough strengths despite any dissatisfaction out there that he could overcome it.”

Pappalardi met with a group of parents after last season. They provided a detailed two-page PowerPoint presentation that included the feedback of 10 families whose kids would return for this season. It was a majority would-be seniors and relatively split on starters/nonstarters.

“The parents were very rationale, very organized, very reasonable,” parent Cliff Seltzer said. “We followed Ray’s process of not hearing from individuals. We interviewed the parents, we got together and we put together this presentation together… All the parents were on board and we met with Ray.”

The list of “positives” from the first year included filling out the schedule, fielding a competitive team, having a “positive attitude and a nice personal manner,” “solid” skills and skating teacher, dealing well with some “situations” between players and getting additional skating sessions.

Among the “concerns” following season 1:

  1. Lack of ability to relate to age group

  2. Absence from team dinners

  3. Lack of discipline for on/off ice issues

  4. Tardiness

  5. Dismissive of players who sought feedback

  6. Unwillingness to accept suggestions

  7. No assistant coach

  8. Inefficient practices

  9. Lack of communication with parents

  10. Not taking advantage of game films

  11. Not attending required Section 1 coach meetings

  12. Loss of traditions

  13. Calling up a large number of junior varsity players at the end of the season

  14. Not participating in spring hockey.

Pappalardi said he could not comment on the meeting.

Bottom line was the parent group did not want Wright to return for a second year. One player transferred to prep school this year and four players quit the team at various stages of this season.

Seltzer was pro-Mancuso, but once “we let the shock go away” and “once we realized he wasn’t going to come back,” he said, “We moved on.”

While Seltzer didn’t agree with the decision, he didn’t like the process, either.

Mancuso was let go in early August and the job was not filled until days before the season. “Hockey starts in the fall,” Seltzer said.

And he would have liked to have seen someone young from within like Mancuso assistant Kevin Blake, who resigned in solidarity with Mancuso, or junior varsity coach James Synowiez, who was named boys lacrosse coach to replace Curran.

“To be honest, coach Wright was definitely the best” of the candidates who applied for the job, Seltzer said. “We were annoyed at the administration with the timing. At that point, people were pretty happy to get a guy who knows hockey last minute.”

Seltzer, whose son, Max, played for Mancuso and graduated in 2015 and whose son, Sam, a senior now, played two years for Mancuso and two years for Wright, found out a month after the meeting with Pappalardi they were stuck with Wright for at least another year. He and other parents responded by spending a lot of time trying to make the best of the situation, lending their efforts to ensuring the team had ice time and games. That was all that was within their control.

Seltzer then watched as the “senior experience,” as he quoted Pappalardi from a previous Inquirer article, was ruined for the eight seniors who remained with the team this winter. There were 12 on the roster at the beginning of the season.

“The takeaway is you’re not dealing with a bunch of crazy parents here,” Seltzer said.

Going forward

Pappalardi has now lost two of the five varsity coaches he has hired. Murphy was the first, Wright the second. Both were external candidates. The other three, Kevin Carrigan for softball, Jeff Weigel for baseball and Synowiez for boys lacrosse, were already with the programs they took over.

Pappalardi, the athletic director at Edgemont from 2008-15, called turnover under new leadership “typical.”

“When I was at Edgemont we probably had 30 to 35 percent turnover when I first got there and by the time I left we were somewhere in the 2 to 3 percent range,” he said. “I think we have to find people who are the right fit and are willing to stay. If they’re the right fit and are willing to stay I think the programs will flourish.”

The plan is to “really establish what Scarsdale athletics are about,” Pappalardi said. He plans to reach out to the community to form an advisory council to craft a philosophy to “try to develop that across all of our programs.” He added, “We have some incredible coaches.”

Supporting existing and incoming coaches will be another priority, offering them “guidance on what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, what the community expects and so on.”

Another step is creating a mentoring program.

“We have to finalize the pieces of that and we’re looking to find other ways to support coaches within,” Pappalardi said. “We’ve had some great hires in the past couple of years.”

Scarsdale currently has four head coaching jobs open: boys basketball, girls lacrosse, field hockey and ice hockey.

There could be more openings coming as middle school physical education teacher Barney Foltman, who coaches girls swim and dive, wrestling and girls golf, announced his retirement from teaching effective at the end of the school year. He is one of three Scarsdale coaches who runs three varsity programs. The others are Rich Clark with cross-country and track and field in both winter and spring and Jennifer Roane, who coaches gymnastics and boys and girls tennis.

Foltman is still deciding on his future as a coach, but said he is leaning toward coaching one or two sports going forward.

“He’s one of the people I’ve been talking to about mentoring some of our new coaches,” Pappalardi said. “He knows the community, he’s been around for a long time and I think his heart is in the right place and he cares about kids. I’d love for Barney to stick around, but I also know he’s looking to take some time for himself.”

The girls lacrosse opening is foremost on Pappalardi’s radar as preseason starts in early March. He already has one interview scheduled for next week, and he’s looking to set up more interviews after the break.

At Edgemont, there were times Pappalardi and/or his assistant athletic director were out on the fields after school working with athletes if there was no coach hired or approved when the season began.

While he is concerned about the current outside — and inside — view of Scarsdale athletics with all the turnover, Pappalardi said he will have ample time to find qualified candidates for the other three openings.

“All I want is what’s best for kids and to establish some standards for programming and moving forward,” Pappalardi said.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


February 16, 2018